Anatomy of DEPRESSION

Article excerpt

The recognition of depression is a crucial step in not only managing depression more effectively, but also preventing negative outcomes.

Depression received top news billing once again when Doug Duncan cited it as his reason for dropping out of the race for governor of Maryland. John Wilson, the late chairman of the Washington, DC Council, once said, "We've got to change the way America feels about depression..." Wilson himself, however, did not feel he could disclose the extent of his own struggles with depression; instead, his suicide revealed the truth. There are many prominent figures, including CBS' Mike Wallace, Patrick Kennedy, Tipper Gore, and Kitty Dukakis, though, who have come forward to discuss their struggles with depression.

Symptoms of depression or mood disorders have been identified since ancient times, The Greek physician Hippocrates used the term melancholia, assuming that it was caused by black bile that darkened a person's mood.

All of us occasionally feel sad. No one escapes life's problems: loss of loved ones, job stress, money concerns, and physical illness. Sadness is undoubtedly one the most universal human emotions. Feeling "down" or "blue" for a few days is common and not indicative of a serious mental illness. True clinical depression, however, is a mood disorder in which feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, guilt, and worthlessness are severe, persistent, prolonged, and debilitating.

Nearly ten percent of Americans suffer from major depression at some time, and it is more common among women than men. The frequency of suicide is more than twice as common in males as females and substantially lower for African Americans than for Caucasians. A 2004 National Survey estimated that 9 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had experienced one major depressive episode. The number jumps to 21.2 percent for those adolescents who used illicit drugs. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, after accidents and homicides, and the teenage suicide rate has tripled since the 1960s.

Depression may occur at any stage of life, childhood to old age. Research data suggest, however, that major depressive episodes are most prevalent among young and middle-aged adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 18 million people have major depression or a bipolar mood disorder at any given time. The annual cost to society is purported to be $40 billion for major depression and $30 billion for bipolar disorders. Recent studies suggest that major depression has increased during the twentieth century and that symptoms now appear at an earlier age. Various explanations have been offered: increased use of alcohol and drugs, high rate of divorce, changes in family structure, social isolation, urbanization, and conflicting value systems. Findings, though, are inconclusive regarding the role of these factors in increased depression.

Types of Depression. Generally recognized types of depression include major depressive disorder, bipolar depressive disorder, postpartum depression, seasonal depression, and adjustment disorder with depressed mood. Symptoms usually overlap among the various types of depression.

Major Depression: Some of the most common symptoms of this type of depression are sadness, feelings of dejection and worthlessness, inability to feel pleasure, loss of appetite, low self-esteem, concentration difficulty, lack of physical energy, and suicidal ideation. Insomnia and weight loss are also common. There is a general lack of interest in outside events, and it is often accompanied by irritability, despair, emptiness, and guilt feelings. Major depression causes personal distress and disrupts one's life at home, work, or school. If it remains untreated, symptoms may worsen and suicidal thoughts may recur, leading to self harm.

Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic-Depressive Illness): Individuals, who have one or more episodes of mania, as well as periods of depression, are diagnosed as bipolar. …