is a term often used to describe a short-term mood when one “feels blue” or down. Nearly everyone experiences these temporary feelings of depression at one time or another during their lifetime. Clinical depression, however, is a psychiatric disorder defined as a “pervasive low mood with loss of interest in normal activities and a diminished ability to experience pleasure.” Clinical depression is serious and can significantly affect a person’s life. People often describe depression as feeling like walking in mud, being in a constant fog or like a black curtain covering them. Some people feel more irritable than usual, have no energy and have trouble concentrating. Clinical depression varies widely and can happen once in a lifetime, have multiple recurrences, last for a few months or be a life-long disorder. People with depression often also experience anxiety disorder and/or panic attacks and vice-versa. Untreated clinical depression is a major risk factor for suicide. Symptoms of depression vary widely but always include a marked change in mood and usually a feeling of deep sadness. Other symptoms may include:
Persistent anxious feelings
Periods of crying for no reason.
Loss of appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain.
Oversleeping or wanting to sleep all the time.
Restlessness or irritability.
Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness or inappropriate guilty feelings.
Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.
Loss of interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed.
Withdrawal from family and friends.
Feeling sluggish, slowed down, tired all of the time.
Headaches, digestive problems and chronic pain.
Thoughts of death or suicide.
There is no single cause for clinical depression, but it often results from a combination of things. Whatever its cause - it’s real and is not just a “state of mind” that a person can “snap out of.” Depression is related to physical changes in the brain, and connected to an imbalance of a type of chemical that carries signals in your brain and nerves. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters. Some of the common causes of clinical depression include:
Genetics - Depression often runs in families for generations.
Trauma and/or stress - Financial problems, divorce or the death of a loved one can bring on depression. You can become depressed after any major life change such as starting a new job, or moving.
Pessimistic personality - People who suffer from low self-esteem and a negative outlook on life are at higher risk of becoming clinically depressed.
Physical conditions - Serious health problems such as heart disease, cancer or HIV can contribute to depression.
Other psychological disorders such as eating disorders, anxiety disorders or substance abuse.
Aging - Older people lose loved ones and have to adjust to living alone. They may become physically ill and unable to be as active as they once were. These changes can all contribute to depression.
Seasonal affective disorder or SAD - this type of depression occurs in the winter when daylight hours are short. It is believed that the body's production of melatonin, which is produced at higher levels in the dark, plays a major part in the onset of SAD and that many sufferers respond well to light therapy, also known as phototherapy.
Postpartum depression - After giving birth, some women experience intense, sustained and often disabling depression.. Postpartum depression, which has incidence rate of 10 to 15 percent, typically sets in within three months of labor, and can last for as long as three months.
Women are twice as likely to become depressed as men, although men are more likely to go undiagnosed and are less likely to seek help. Women are at higher risk partly due to hormonal changes brought on by puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
Not everyone will suffer from every symptom and the severity of symptoms vary from person to person. If you experience any of the above symptoms and/or you feel “down” for more than two weeks, you may be clinically depressed and should seek help from your family physician or a local mental health center. There is help available in many different forms, including medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. No one has to remain stuck in depression - it is a treatable illness. While depression can make you feel alone, as many as 35 million Americans will experience it at some point in their lives.