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What is Depression?

Depression is a general term that refers to a symptom pattern common to a grouping of mental health disorders. Depression can refer to the symptom itself, or can be a simplified way to categorize a group of more specific conditions such as Dysthymic Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (a seasonal presentation of depression), an in some cases, Bipolar Disorder. Depression goes far beyond the low mood most of us experience from time to time. People suffering from depression experience a significant loss in their ability to function in day-to-day life activities. Depression can cause changes in social interaction, sleep patterns, eating behaviors, and can substantially impact our ability to work or complete complex tasks. Depression can also affect our ability to concentrate and solve problems, or may impact our memory. In some cases, Depression can also cause recurring thoughts of suicide or death, and can include feelings of guilt, hopelessness and worthlessness about ourselves.

How common is Depression, and how long does it last?

Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness. According to the CDC, approximately 16% of the population will experience an episode of depression in their lifetime. The duration of the symptoms depends on the type of depression. Some people experience episodes that last weeks to months. Others may experience a milder, more chronic version of depression that can last for years. Depression can also be part of a condition called Bipolar Disorder in which people experience shifts in mood that include periods of Depression. While there is no “one size fits all” answer to the details of how Depression impacts each individual, it does tend to be a condition that people recover from, though additional episodes may occur later in life.

What causes Depression?

There is no single cause to depression, and it comes about as a response to multiple factors. People can inherit a genetic risk for developing depression, so it sometimes “runs” in families that have a prior history of depression. Our physiology can certainly play a role, and multiple neurotransmitters have been implicated in depression (these are the chemical messenger molecules that help our brain operate). Antidepressants exert their effects through the function of these neurotransmitters. Another common factor is our learned pattern of thoughts and assumptions that we accumulate over the lifespan. These are often outside of our immediate awareness, and can serve to maintain distorted beliefs or interpretations of events that maintain depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of counseling that helps improve this area.

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

  • Depressed mood
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Changes in sleep (too much or too little)
  • Changes in our physical movement
  • Fatigue / Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Problems with concentration
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How is Depression Treated?

Since depression does not have a single cause, there is no single treatment for all cases. In some cases, medication is a preferred or necessary option. In most cases, psychotherapy is a valuable tool and can have a range of approaches and primary focus points. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a very common approach that includes modifications to behavior and thought patterns that contribute to depression. Depression treatment often includes a focus on social and family factors as well. Therapy for Depression is highly individualized, and is tailored to the specific pattern of symptoms and circumstances of each individual.

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