Major Depression - It Impacts Us All
David Prescott, Ph.D.
Depression Remains a Major Public Health Problem: Major Depression is a psychological disorder that has received increased attention from health professionals, employers, and the general public over the past decade. One author recently suggested that major depression had become “the common cold” of psychiatric disorders in terms of its widespread nature. While the “common cold” comparison may have some benefit in terms of reducing the stigma associated with major depression, we should not be lulled into a sense of complacency. The economic and personal cost of major depression is enormous. Sadly, many people with major (or clinical) depression receive no treatment or inadequate treatment.
Far from being “just a case of the blues,” Major Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and established market economies worldwide. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), almost 15 million Americans per year experience an episode of major depression. About 1 in 5 Americans will experience a depressive disorder in their lifetime.
Symptoms of Depression: An episode of major depression may occur as the primary problem, termed unipolar depression, or as part of mood swings, termed bipolar disorder. Chronic, but slightly milder depression is termed dysthymic disorder. A major depressive episode is not simply feeling down for a day or two, but is a significant change in mood and other behaviors lasting for two or more weeks. Symptoms include:
persistently sad or irritable mood
pronounced changes in sleep, appetite, and energy
difficulty thinking, concentrating, and remembering
lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness
recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
Depression Impacts Us All: Statistically, only 20% of people will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime. However, the impact of depression touches almost every single person. A survey completed in 2006 of people with major depression illustrates the far reaching impact of this disorder. Among the findings of this survey were:
Relationships: Over one-third of people with depression experience significant relationship problems such as marital stress or divorce
Parenting: Half of people with depression report that the disorder negatively impacts their relationship with their children, such as their ability to help with sports/activities, or the amount of emotional support they provide.
Work: More than half of people with depression report that their work performance was negatively impacted. Because of depression, almost a third took sick days, one in eight felt they had missed promotion opportunities, and one in four reported losing their temper with a co-worker.
Treatment for Depression – You Have Lots of Choices: Between 80-90% of people who receive treatment for depression are able to feel better and return to some, or all, of their normal level of activity. Sadly, not all people who have major depression receive treatment. This becomes even more tragic when one considers that there are many options for reducing depression. These include:
Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves meeting with a psychologist or other mental health professional. In addition to getting emotional support, psychotherapy often involves changing beliefs or thinking patterns which reinforce depression.
Medication: Medications can be prescribed by your primary care doctor or psychiatrist. Medications for depression appear to help by changing brain chemistry systems involving the neurotransmitters serotonin or norepinephrine.
Emotional Support: Simply talking to someone who is able to listen non-judgmentally, or learning more about depression, is often quite helpful.
Changes in Lifestyle: Often making adjustments to your overall lifestyle, such as modifying what you eat, how often you exercise, or how much alcohol you drink can improve depression.