What is Depression?
Depression is far more than just feeling blue. It is a disorder that affects a significant portion of the U.S. population. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, seven percent of the population had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. It touches almost every age, ethnic and socioeconomic background, though women are more likely to be affected than men.
Trauma, genetics, life circumstances, brain structure and medical conditions (sleep disturbances or chronic pain, for example) can trigger depression. It also may be entwined with drug or alcohol abuse, with about 30 percent of those with a substance abuse problem also having depression.
Depression can be more common in those with chronic illness, particularly those that limit functions. Given that 80 percent of older adults having one chronic health condition and 50 percent with two or more, depression is an issue as we age. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1-5 percent of older people living in a community setting have depression, compared to 11.5 percent of those hospitalized and 13 percent of those who require home health care.
The National Institutes of Health defines several types of depression. Major depression interferes with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat or enjoy life. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is a depressed mood that lasts for two years or more. A person with PDD may have periods of less severe symptoms as well.
Sometimes, a person with a form of psychosis can also experience severe depression. Some new mothers may be affected by postpartum depression. And a number of people are affected by seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which typically occurs during the winter months when there is less natural sunlight. Depression also affects those with bipolar disorder.
Even the most severe forms of depression can be treated, though treatment is most effective when begun early at onset.
What are the Symptoms of Depression?
Those who experience depression may be persistently sad, anxious or “empty.” They are likely to express pessimism or hopelessness. They also may be irritable or restless. Activities that were once pleasurable are no longer enjoyed. They may have a decreased energy level and sleep more. Or they may experience insomnia. They may overeat, or lose their appetites. They may have thoughts of suicide. And they may experience aches or pains that do not respond to treatment.