Even with the all the progress that medical science has made in the treatment of disorders like depression, the phrase “mental health” still scares people. No one wants to have a mental disorder, much less talk about it if they’ve been diagnosed with one. The truth is it’s more common than most people realize. An estimated 43.8 percent of adults in the United States experience some sort of mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.
There are several forms of depressive disorders.
Major depression or severe depression has symptoms which interfere with the ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy life. An episode can occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, a person has multiple episodes.
Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or persistent depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes—from extreme highs to extreme lows.
Causes of Depression
One of the most common forms of mental illness that people experience is depression. Research suggests that 16 million Americans deal with at least one major episode of depression each year. There are many factors that can bring about depression, such as a family history of the condition, alcohol and drug abuse or chronic physical pain among others.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Regardless of how an individual develops depression, the symptoms can be very painful. Without proper treatment, depression can spiral out of control and lead to a myriad of other difficulties. While not everyone experiences the same exact symptoms during a depressive episode, some of the most common signs of the condition are:
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
“It was really hard to get out of bed in the morning. I just wanted to hide under the covers and not talk to anyone. I didn’t feel much like eating and I lost a lot of weight. Nothing seemed fun anymore. I was tired all the time, and I wasn’t sleeping well at night. But I knew I had to keep going because I’ve got kids and a job. It just felt so impossible, like nothing was going to change or get better.”
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness and pessimism
Persistent sad, anxious or empty moods
Difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
Loss of interest in hobbies or daily activities
Appetite and/or weight changes
Consistently feeling restless or irritable
Trouble sleeping or being unable to stop oversleeping
Decrease in energy, feeling fatigued
Physical Symptoms of Depression
The constant mental strain a person with depression deals with can manifest physical symptoms as well. These can include’
- chronic headaches
- tightness in the chest
- difficulty breathing
These symptoms are often diagnosed as another medical condition, an individual’s depression might go unnoticed and untreated.
The good news is that depression is a treatable illness. Most people see a noticeable improvement after proper diagnosis and treatment. Though it varies depending on the type of depressive condition a person is experiencing, treatment generally involves some medication and counseling, which can address the root cause of the depression. This gives a person the opportunity to develop strategies in preventing future episodes from taking over their life.
It’s so important for people to seek help for their depression, or for family members, friends or colleagues to ask about a person’s wellbeing. Left untreated, depression can recur more often and last longer. It can lead to destructive behaviors like alcohol and drug abuse in an effort to self-medicate the painful symptoms. Studies show that prolonged depression can even make recovery from another serious illness more difficult. In short, untreated depression can ruin lives.
The 2 Keys to Dealing With Depression
As public awareness around mental health issues expand and evolve, two of the key elements to highlight are understanding and compassion. So often people suffering from depression are embarrassed that they can’t just “pick themselves up by the boot straps” and get on with their normal lives. The fact is no one should have to live with depression.
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