Ph. D - Psychology
Depression is relatively common among adults, with 14.8 million people — 6.7 percent of the adult population — experiencing a major depressive disorder in any given year. Both men and women can have depression, but it is more common among women.
People who are depressed experience sadness or loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. While just about everyone experiences these feelings every once in a while, people who are depressed have these feelings on an ongoing basis, and the symptoms of depression affect how they function in daily life.
Understanding the Causes of Depression
A number of factors are thought to contribute to the development of depression, including:
- Genetics. Depression tends to run in families, so researchers believe that certain genes may be associated with developing it.
- Brain abnormalities. Scientists have found that people who are depressed have certain brain characteristics that are different from people who are not depressed. Imbalances of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine, which are brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, are thought to be involved with the development of depression.
- Stressful situations. Stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one, a major life change, or a serious illness, have been known to trigger depression. While some people have normal and temporary feelings of sadness and loss after a stressful event, others will experience clinical depression.
- Gender. Because depression affects women more than men — at least two times more often — depression in women could be related to gender-specific factors, like menstrual cycles and pregnancy, or differences in how women and men react to stressful situations.
Understanding the Types of Depression
Major depression is a serious mental illness in which a person experiences multiple depressive symptoms for at least two weeks. Other types of depression include:
- Bipolar disorder, alternating episodes of emotional "highs" (mania) and "lows" (depression).
- Dysthymia, mild depression symptoms that last two years or longer.
- Postpartum depression, a type of depression that occurs in the mother after her baby is born.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a major depression that occurs during seasons with low sunlight.
People with depression often have other physical or mental illnesses such as:
Alcohol and/or substance abuse or dependence
Having depression makes these other serious illnesses more difficult to treat, and increases the risk of dying from these other conditions.
Seeking Help for Depression
Depression is a serious illness that should be treated by medical professionals. Whether your case of depression is severe or mild, treatment can help.
If you are experiencing persistent problems associated with depression, talk with your family doctor. Primary care physicians write more prescriptions for antidepressants than other health care professionals.
Your doctor can discuss your symptoms with you, rule out other medical conditions, or refer you to a mental health professional. There are several treatments, including medications, psychotherapy, light therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy, that are very effective for depression.
The first step is the most important: getting help to get better.