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Just the Facts: Depression

More than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch, depression is a serious mental health condition that requires understanding, treatment and a good recovery plan.  With early detection, diagnosis and an effective treatment plan, many people do get better.  But if left untreated, depression can be devastating not only for people who have it, but for their families as well.

An estimated 7 percent of the American adult population – about 16 million people – had at least one major depressive episode last year.  It affects people of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.  Women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression, and young adults aged 18-25 are 60 percent more likely to have depression than people aged 50 or older.

What Causes Depression?

Depression does not have a single cause.  There are a number of factors that may increase the chance of depression such as a traumatic event or past abuse, chronic pain or a chronic illness, or the presence of another mental illness.  Genetics can play a role, as well as physical factors such as brain structure, changes in function of the pituitary gland, sleep disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Nearly 30 percent of people with substance use problems also suffer from depression.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

People with depression, or who are going through a depressive episode, experience symptoms differently.  The symptoms can be described as moods, feelings or physical pain and generally include the following:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts or irritability
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest
  • Low self-esteem
  • Frequent or recurring mention of death or suicide
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Unexplained physical ailments

How Can Depression be Treated?

With a specific evaluation and treatment plan, depression often responds well to treatment.  Treatment options include medication, psychotherapy, brain stimulation therapies and light therapy.  Exercise can help in treating severe depression, along with alternative therapies including acupuncture, meditation, nutrition, faith and prayer.  Depression symptoms do improve with treatment, but it can take time.  Finding the best treatment may require trying more than one type of medication or treatment approach.  For some people, symptoms quickly improve after starting treatment, while for others, it may take longer.

Supporting a Family Member or Friend Who has Depression

Helping someone with depression can be a challenge and may leave you feeling helpless and wondering what to do.  To help provide support for a loved one, you can:

  • Encourage them to stick with treatment
  • Be willing to listen
  • Give positive reinforcement
  • Help create a stress-free environment
  • Locate helpful organizations
  • Make plans together

Most importantly, remember that your loved one’s depression isn’t anyone’s fault, and that your support and understanding can help.  Take care of yourself by asking others for help.  To prevent becoming frustrated or burned out, find time for your own hobbies, physical activity, friends and spiritual renewal.  While there is no known cure for depression, with the right medication and treatment approach, it can be managed effectively.

This information has been retrieved from the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research and from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  To read more, visit:

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