What is depression and what can I do about it?
Sadness, feeling down, having a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities – these are symptoms familiar to all of us. But, if they persist and affect our life substantially, it may be depression.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.6 percent of people over the age of 12 have depression in any 2-week period. This is substantial and shows the scale of the issue.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the most common illness worldwide and the leading cause of disability. They estimate that 350 million people are affected by depression, globally.
Fast facts on depression:
Depression seems to be more common among women than men.
Symptoms include lack of joy and reduced interest in things that used to bring a person happiness.
Life events, such as bereavement, produce mood changes that can usually be distinguished from the features of depression.
The causes of depression are not fully understood but are likely to be a complex combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors.
Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistently low mood and a feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It is a persistent problem, not a passing one, lasting on average 6 to 8 months.
Diagnosis starts with a consultation from a mental health expert.
Diagnosis of depression starts with a consultation with a doctor or mental health specialist. It is important to seek the help of a health professional to rule out different causes of depression, ensure an accurate differential diagnosis, and secure safe and effective treatment.
As for most visits to the doctor, there may be a physical examination to check for physical causes and coexisting conditions. Questions will also be asked – “taking a history” – to establish the symptoms, their time course, and so on.
Some questionnaires help doctors to assess the severity of depression. The Hamilton depression rating scale, for example, has 21 questions, with resulting scores describing the severity of the condition. The Hamilton scale is one of the most widely used assessment instruments in the world for clinicians rating depression.
What is not classified as depression?
Depression is different from the fluctuations in mood that people experience as a part of normal life. Temporary emotional responses to the challenges of everyday life do not constitute depression.
Likewise, even the feeling of grief resulting from the death of someone close is not itself depression if it does not persist. Depression can, however, be related to bereavement – when depression follows a loss, psychologists call it a “complicated bereavement.”
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms include reduced interest in pleasurable activities and lower mood.
Symptoms of depression can include:
reduced interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, loss of sexual desire
unintentional weight loss (without dieting) or low appetite
insomnia (difficulty sleeping) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
psychomotor agitation, for example, restlessness, pacing up and down
delayed psychomotor skills, for example, slowed movement and speech
fatigue or loss of energy
feelings of worthlessness or guilt
impaired ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions
recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, or attempt at suicide