Major depression, also known as clinical or unipolar depression, is a debilitating disease that affects approximately 15 million adults in the United States each year, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The symptoms of major depression are listed by the NAMI as:
•Feelings of hopelessness and profound sadness
•Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or emptiness
•Changes in sleeping habits
•Changes in eating habits
•Changes in energy levels
•Inability to enjoy things once enjoyed
•Preoccupation with death and/or suicide
•Chronic physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches
•Changes in physical activity—-slowing or agitation
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek professional help. Remember, depression is not a weakness—-it is a disease.
It is always said that approximately twice as many women suffer from major depression as do men. That might be true, but I’m assuming those numbers are based on diagnosed cases of depression. Because many men see depression (and other mental illnesses) as weakness, they are not as likely to seek treatment as women are, and therefore, would not be included in the numbers.
You might know this from your own experience, as I do with mine, but depression does tend to run in families which is proof that there is a genetic predisposition to the illness.
Most bouts of major depression are triggered by painful and stressful life evens such as the death of a loved one, divorce, bankruptcy, etc. However, some bouts of depression seemingly have no triggers. Those cases could be linked to abuse in the sufferer’s childhood or young adulthood. They could also be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Antidepressants are frequently prescribed for those who suffer from depression, and while some people seem to get some relief from these drugs, the efficacy has been found to be only slightly higher than placebo, in most studies. The reason for this is that doctors cannot tell you exactly what is causing your depression, and which chemical in your brain is deficient.
Most doctors will tell you that it sometimes takes trying many different antidepressants, and combinations of them, to find the right “cocktail” for you. This is because there is no way of knowing which type of antidepressant might help you. This could be the reason that some people become suicidal while taking antidepressants—-instead of increasing the chemical you might need, it’s increasing one you don’t need, and causing you to feel much worse, rather than better.
While because of my own experience with antidepressants, and what I found while researching the subject, I am not a proponent of them, I am also not suggesting that you stop taking them. If you believe they help, that’s fine. However, it’s my belief that getting to the root of the problem in therapy (counseling) is much more effective. You can take a room full of pills, but if the cause of your depression isn’t addressed, you won’t ever feel better.
Suicide is, of course, the worst possible outcome of major depression. If you have suicidal ideation, do not waste another minute. Call for help immediately! What you believe to be the end of your life today could turn out to be only a very rough spot on your road to a beautiful life, so do not give up!
There are many ways that you can improve your mood, decreasing your symptoms of depression. Some of those include exercise, (moderate) sun/light exposure, getting eight hours of sleep between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., eating a healthy diet, taking dietary supplements such as omega fatty acids and B vitamins, petting your dog, and spending time with friends and family. These things might not sound sexy, but don’t discount them just because they don’t require a prescription. They really do help!
NAMI National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Major Depression Fact Sheet,” www.nami.org, 2009.