More than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, and unfortunately, that number is on the rise. Experts estimate that 15 percent of the adult population will experience depression at some point in their lifetime. Children and adolescents are also affected by depression. In fact, 3.1 million young people between the ages of 12 and 17 have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year in the U.S.
Depression is widespread, dangerous, and even impacts our economy. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.
Fortunately, depression a very treatable disorder. To prevent depression from becoming life-threating, it is vital to raise awareness of its seriousness and understand the common symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.
While many people casually claim to be “depressed” following unfortunate events or circumstances, depression is more than severe sadness, grief, mourning, or bereavement. Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think, and act. It is a mood disorder characterized by prolonged feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) defines a major depressive episode as “at least two weeks of a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities, as well as at least five other symptoms.”
Symptoms of depression
While there are several types of depression, they share these common signs and symptoms:
- Sleep issues, either sleeping too much or too little, on a daily basis
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Decreased energy or fatigue almost every day
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and thinking clearly
- Slow physical movements or unintentional or purposeless motions
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, or back pain
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, a suicide attempt, or a specific plan for suicide
Some lesser-known, surprising symptoms of depression include:
- Physical pain
- Drinking more alcohol than usual
- Lapses in self-care and hygiene
- Overwhelming guilt
Are you or a loved one displaying these symptoms? Experiencing a combination of the above symptoms for a prolonged period (at least two weeks) may indicate that you or your loved one is having a depressive episode.
Causes and risk factors
What makes a person susceptible to depression? The American Psychiatric Association divides depression risk factors into four categories:
- Biochemistry: The way in which certain brain chemicals function may predispose a person to depression.
- Genetics: Like other diseases, depression can also run in families.
- Personality traits: People who have traits such as low self-esteem, pessimism, and being easily overwhelmed by stress are more likely to experience depression.
- Environmental stressors: People who face adverse life events, such as unemployment, bereavement, psychological trauma, etc. are more likely to develop depression.
Similarly, the Mayo Clinic highlighted several factors that increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing depression:
- Personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being too dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
- Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems
- Family history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or suicide
- History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder
- Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs
- Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease
- Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills
While depression is very treatable, only about half of diagnosed Americans receive treatment. In fact, Psychology Today found that many opt out of treatment due to practical barriers, such as cost concerns, transportation, not knowing where to go for treatment, etc., and psychological barriers, such as worries about stigmatization and doubts about the effectiveness of treatment.
The truth is that between 80 and 90 percent of people eventually respond well to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. Studies show that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is an effective way to treat depression, but each person is different. If you are worried that you or a loved one is experiencing depression, it’s important to see a doctor who can determine the right treatment plan.
If you’d like to talk to a doctor about depression, call 205-996-WEST to schedule an appointment for an evaluation with a UAB Medical West provider. We are here to serve the communities of Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, and Vance, and more!