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Major depression is a mental disorder, characterized by a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, that persists for two weeks or longer. In addition, the presence of changes in some (or many) of the following areas are noted in major depression: 
bullet Mood: sad, empty, hopeless, apathetic, worried, irritable 
bullet Thinking: poor concentration, low self-esteem, indecisiveness, preoccupation with death, thoughts of suicide, guilt, etc. 
bullet Behavior: slowed down or restless, crying, social withdrawal, suicidal acts 
bullet Physical: appetite decreased or increased, disturbed sleep, decreased sexual drive, digestive problems, weight gain or loss, and fatigue. 

In a poll taken by the National Mental Health Association, 43 percent of those surveyed said that they believed depression was a personal or emotional weakness rather than an illness. As a result of this kind of thinking, fewer than one in three depressed people ever seek treatment. They choose to blame themselves, family members, friends, or circumstances for their depressed feelings. They are wrong. 

Depression is a highly treatable disorder. In fact, the sooner depression is diagnosed and treatment begun, the brighter the long-term outlook.  With appropriate treatment, as many as percent of those suffering with depression improve significantly within a few months. 


Major depression can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Mild depression involves a minimum number of symptoms (five are required for diagnosis), and there is little interference with work or social functioning.

Moderate depression presents more symptoms and greater impairment of daily life. 

In severe depression symptoms are increased both in number and severity and take a much greater toll on the ability to function socially and at work. In extreme cases depressives are unable to work, feed, clothe, or provide basic hygiene for themselves. 

Major depression can be further divided into three forms, melancholic, atypical, and psychotic. 

bullet feeling of sadness is profound and of a different quality than other depression. 
bullet early morning wakening and inability to fall asleep again. 
bullet depression most intense in morning. 
bullet behavior either agitated or slowed down 
bullet loss of appetite and weight loss 
bullet persistent and complete loss of joy in life’s pleasures
bullet excessive and unfounded guilt. 
bullet ability to experience joys of life, however briefly, and can feel temporary happiness in response to something pleasurable. 
bullet may eat or sleep much more than usual 
bullet may report a heavy, leaden feeling in arms or legs 
bullet chronic and extreme sensitivity to rejection, causing interference in ability to work or to socialize. 
bullet loss of touch with reality
bullet hallucinations usually reflective of their sense of doom. 
bullet hallucinations are sensory, usually visual and/or auditory 
bullet treatment with antipsychotic medication is essential. 

SYMPTOMS - is it depression? 

     If your mood has been persistently depressed (sad, blue, hopeless, down, irritable); if you have lost interest in all or almost all usual activities and pastimes and have experienced at least four of the following symptoms for at least two weeks, major depression is a likely cause. Consultation with a professional is needed at this point.
bullet Appetite greater or less than normal. Weight gain or loss without trying.
bullet Sleep disturbances, more or less than usual. 
bullet Slowed movements or agitation and restlessness. 
bullet Fatigue, listlessness, and lack of energy. 
bullet Hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. 
bullet Lack of concentration and inability to focus attention. 
bullet Inability to perform as effectively or productively as in the past. 
bullet Difficulty in thinking clearly and in decision-making. 
bullet Forgetfulness. 
bullet Persistent and recurring thoughts of death or suicide. 
bullet Poor sense of self-worth and self-esteem. 
bullet Feelings of inadequacy. 
bullet Reflecting and brooding over the past. 
bullet Loss of interest in sex or less sexually active than usual. 
bullet Withdrawal from others. 
bullet Physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, aches and pains. 


     At highest risk are individuals who have already experienced an episode of major depression, have close relatives with severe depression, or who abuse alcohol or drugs. 

     Depression may strike any age group, from young children to seniors, with an average onset in the mid-twenties.

     According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 4.4 percent of Americans (or 9.4 million) will develop major depression at some point in their lives. Women are two to three times more likely to develop depression than men. 


     Some individuals may be able to point at various life events and be certain they are the reasons for their depression. For others depression comes “out of the blue,” with no apparent reason.

     Depression is an illness characterized by neurochemical abnormalities that can cause significant disability. The cause may be one or a combination of biological, genetic, chemical, psychological, social, developmental, and environmental factors.  Heredity, brain chemistry, hormonal systems, and sleep-wake controls are included in biological factors. Cognitive disorders, behavioral disorders, stress, and the traumas of life are psychological factors. 


     Many depressed individuals do not realize they are seriously ill. They choose to blame themselves and “tough it out.” They are not aware that depression may continue for many months or even years without proper treatment.

     If the symptoms of depression have been present every day, for most of the days, for a period of two weeks, it is time to seek help without delay. If thoughts of suicide are present, it is an emergency. Seek help immediately.


     Fifteen percent of those who are depressed kill themselves. Twice that many may attempt it. Suicide is a major and outstanding risk of major depression. Depression may also lead to or exacerbate substance abuse. Also, depression complicates and interferes with the treatment of many illnesses, from asthma and stroke to heart disease and cancer. 


     Treatment for major depression comes in many forms. For many, medication, psychotherapy, or both, are very effective. Psychotherapy alone is enough to relieve the symptoms in many cases of mild to moderate major depression. Individuals respond differently to different types of therapy. If one fails, they should not despair but go on to the next. One will work. 

     Antidepressant drugs are effective in more than half of the cases of moderate to severe depression.  It may be necessary to try several different antidepressants before finding the one that works best for you.

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