About 20 million people in the United States suffer from it. Over 100 million people worldwide are overcome by it. It sucks the vitality out of life, destroys work performance, threatens livelihoods, jeopardizes relationships, and in some instances, leads to loss of life. It’s not cancer, nor is it diabetes or heart disease-it’s a disease that most people view as rather innocuous, but this is a perception that must change. Depression has become the 21st century epidemic in first-world countries, but unfortunately, it’s too often relegated to the shadows of terrible diseases that affect our lives.
Depression used to be called “melancholia,” and it is characterized by sadness, sleep disturbances, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, slow motor skills or a sense of agitation, and changes in appetite. Clinical depression is quite different from your garden-variety depression, the type of depression that is a natural and healthy response to difficult life events. Depression can quite literally come at you from out of the blue, and it feels much more severe and hopeless than other types of sadness. When you’re clinically depressed, even getting out of the bed in the morning and performing everyday functions can seem impossible, and it is difficult to summon the will to do anything. It’s not hard to understand how such a feeling can lead to behaviors that wreak havoc in your personal and professional life.
Clinical depression can manifest as major depression or dysthmic disorder. An incident of major depression is pretty hard to miss as it knocks you flat and egregiously hammers your life. Dysthmic disorder, on the other hand, is a more subtle and underhanded foe that quietly strips your joy. Dysthmic disorder definitely feels like depression, but it’s more of a low-grade depression that saps your energy and can last for years if left untreated.
Unfortunately, depressive illness has not been studied in the past due to a pervasive stigma that surrounds it and it’s only recently getting its just dues in the medical world. However, many individuals still feel the effects of that long-held societal stigma, so it is difficult to get an accurate count of how many people suffer from the illness because they are too ashamed to see a medical professional. The best statistics that can be gathered reveal that depression affects three to four people out of every 1,000. In fact, 25 percent of Americans can expect to experience a bout of major depression during their lifetime. As such, it’s important to for all of us to become more educated about a condition that will probably affect our lives or the lives of people we love.
To truly conquer depression, we need to dispel some of the myths that surround it. Depression is NOT a form of self-pity, weakness or self-absorption. A depressed person cannot just “snap out of” depression any more than a diabetic can snap out of sugar shock. Clinical depression requires the intervention of medical experts, via methods such as psychotherapy and, if needed, antidepressant medication. With the help of a good psychiatrist, a depressed patient can learn to combat depressive modes of thinking through cognitive-behavioral therapy, can learn to enjoy life again. The hardest part is finding the courage to seek help, but as the old adage states, the only way out is through.
“Current Depression Among Adults-United States-2006 and 2008.” Center for Disease Control. <http://www.cdc.gov> 10 Nov 2012