A State of Illinois Licensed Psychological Association (License #098.000088)

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What is depression? How does it differ from occasional sadness?

Depression is a serious illness that affects approximately 19 million American adults each year. Depression can negatively affect one's body, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. Everyone feels sad or down in the dumps on occasion. It is normal to have passing feelings of sadness or to grieve when something upsetting happens like the loss of a loved one through death or divorce, major illness, or job loss. However, these sad feelings typically lessen over time. In contrast, depression is more extreme and persistent and can diminish a person's ability to function on a day to day basis. Depression often leads to withdrawal from family and friends.

The experience of depression can vary by individual. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can have different courses. Depressive symptoms can include:
Persistent feelings of sadness, irritability, or "emptiness"
Feeling hopeless, pessimistic, or "stuck"
Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyable
Low energy or fatigue
Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Either loss of appetite/weight OR overeating and weight gain
Difficulty falling/staying asleep OR oversleeping
Thoughts of death or suicide; attempted suicide

What are the basic types of depression?

The three basic types of depression are major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder (or manic-depressive disorder). Major depressive disorder is diagnosed when an individual experiences five or more of the above symptoms for the same two-week period. Dysthymic disorder is less severe, but more chronic than major depressive disorder. This disorder is diagnosed when an individual experiences sadness more days than not for a two year period (1 year for children or adolescents) plus two other depressive symptoms. Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood changes that cycle between highs or mania and lows or depression. When in the depressed cycle, the individual may experience many of the symptoms of depression. When in the manic cycle, the individual may be overly talkative, elated, or irritable, have grandiose ideas, racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, and poor judgment and impulse control.

What causes depression?

The causes of depression vary by individual. Depression may be brought on by changes in brain chemistry or biological changes in the body. A person might also experience depression in response to the stress brought about by a loss or significant life transition. Additionally, depression may signify that the mental, emotional, or interpersonal aspects of a person's life are out of balance.

What helps?

Whatever the cause of a person's depression, the result is unnecessary suffering. Treatment can help. Approximately 80% of people with depression respond positively to treatment. Those who do not seek treatment suffer needlessly and may sink further into isolation and depression. Psychotherapy offers people a way to identify the causes of depression and to find ways to remove these barriers to enjoyable living. Psychotherapy alone may be all that is needed for the treatment of mild to moderate depression while a combination of psychotherapy and medication may be the best form of treatment for moderate to more severe depression. Psychotherapy can help the depressed individual as well as others in close relationship with the individual that are wondering how best to support and cope together with their loved one.

What you can do now?

1. Make an appointment with one of our clinicians for a comprehensive professional assessment and to put together a treatment plan for relieving the depression.
2. Make an appointment with your physician to rule out any physical cause of depression.

Additional Information: National Institute of Mental Health

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