of Depression • Causes
& Symptoms • Treatments
Medication Therapy • Psychotherapy
• Living with
How Family and Friends Can Help
of sadness and discouragement are normal emotional reactions
to difficult situations. But when these feelings last more
than a few weeks, it could be a sign of the mood disorder
Depression is one of the most common of all mental illnesses.
It can appear at any age, and one in five women and one in
10 men will experience depression sometime in their lives.
Almost 90 percent of those who suffer from depression could
be effectively treated, and those who are treated realize
some benefit. But many go untreated, largely because they
do not recognize the illness or notice the patterns, blaming
the symptoms on flu, stress, lack of sleep or poor diet. If
left untreated, depression could eventually lead to suicide.
recognize the symptoms and patterns early and seek treatment,
they can avoid much needless suffering.
Types of Depression
Depression occurs in several forms, and some of these may
overlap. In the case of depression, psychiatrists may give
more than one diagnosis because the illness is often linked
with other problems like substance abuse, eating disorders
or anxiety disorders.
Clinical depression refers to a condition serious enough to
require professional treatment. A person who experiences severe
depression during a single period is said to have had an episode
of clinical depression. Major depression is marked by more
severe or exaggerated symptoms.
recently identified form of depression - seasonal affective
disorder (SAD) - is triggered by seasonal changes, like weather
patterns or the amount of available daylight.
severe type of depression is manic-depression, or bipolar
disorder, so named because its sufferers experience not only
the lows of depression but also the highs of mania.
While research has led to a significant understanding of depression,
scientists have not found the exact mechanism that triggers
depression. Most likely there is no single cause. However,
recent studies have linked depression to genetic changes in
body chemistry. These changes usually involve imbalances of
neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate),
particularly serotonin and norepinephrine.
Other factors, such as negative family relationships, serious
illness, major loss or change, and substance abuse, can cause
or complicate depression. Close relatives of people with depression
are sometimes more likely to develop either depression or
manic-depression than the general population.
Signs and Symptoms
True clinical depression is frequently mistaken for occasional
sadness, discouragement, disappointment or "the blues."
These feelings usually appear in depression, but in a more
intense and prolonged form. People who suffer from depression
will likely display one or more of the following behaviors:
of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, total
indifference and/or extreme guilt
sadness; unexplained crying spells
from formerly enjoyable activities or relationships
to concentrate or remember details; indecisiveness
change in appetite with sudden weight loss or gain
in sleep patterns: constant fatigue, insomnia, early waking,
ailments that cannot be explained otherwise
of death or suicide attempts
Depression is one of the most treatable of all mental illnesses.
As many as 90 percent of people with depression respond well
to treatment, and nearly all of those treated experience some
benefit. Like many other mental illnesses, depression is usually
treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of
the two. Patients can usually see relief of their symptoms
in just a few weeks.
Antidepressant medications are used to correct imbalances
of certain neurotransmitters. Five groups of medications are
most often prescribed for depression: tricyclic antidepressants;
monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs); selective serotonin
reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); and serotonin and norepinephrine
reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs); and other "atypical"
The effectiveness of antidepressant medications depends on
a person's overall health, weight and metabolism, and other
unique physical traits, and they are usually prescribed to
fit the individual. If one medication doesn't work, the physician
may try another or a combination of medications to determine
the most effective regimen. Generally, antidepressants become
fully effective within three to six weeks.
forms of therapy are electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and light
therapy. While its use has decreased as more advanced medications
have been developed, ECT remains very effective for treating
patients who cannot tolerate or take medications due to medical
conditions, old age, malnutrition, or those who do not respond
to anti-depressant medications. Light therapy is used primarily
for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Patients
using this treatment spend regular, therapeutic sessions bathed
in light from a full-spectrum light source.
Psychotherapy involves the verbal interaction between trained
professionals and patients. The therapist uses techniques
to help the patient gain personal insight that will allow
him or her to positively change thoughts, feelings or behaviors.
Several forms of this "talk treatment" have proven
to be helpful in the treatment of depression. They include
interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy,
psychoanalysis and psycho-dynamic psychotherapy.
Living with Depression
Depression can make a person feel fatigued, worthless, helpless
and hopeless. It is important to realize these feelings are
a result of the depression and do not accurately reflect a
person's true situation. Until treatment takes effect, a person
suffering with serious depression should:
realistic goals and expectations;
time with other people;
in enjoyable activities;
the advice of close friends or family before making important
they will not "snap out" of their depression;
positively and reject negative thoughts.
Family and Friends Can Help
important thing family and friends can do for the depressed
person is to help him or her get treatment. This may involve
encouraging the patient to stay with the treatment, going with
the patient to the doctor, or even monitoring whether the patient
is taking medication.
Another important way to help is to offer emotional support
- understanding, patience, affection and encouragement. Always
listen to the depressed person. Do not ignore any remarks about
suicide; report them to the doctor immediately.