Most of us experience times when we just feel down in the dumps. We’re irritable, unhappy, dissatisfied with our lives or maybe we’re feeling the effects of illness. These feelings are both normal and temporary. But for thousands, the emptiness, the sadness, the inability to enjoy life remains and begins to severely impact daily life. When that happens, we’re talking about more than the blues, we’re facing serious depression.
Doctors define depression as a medical illness causing a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in life. Major or clinical depression affects the sufferer’s feelings, thoughts and behavior. Depression can cause emotional and physical problems, the most serious cases resulting in severe disabilities and even suicidal thoughts.
Diagnosing depression is a difficult task as there are many and varied symptoms. Some people report loss of interest and passive behaviors while others experience anxiety, irritability and anger. Effective diagnosis requires a medical professional to take account of physical problems and emotional states of mind through observations, tests and conversations. Family history of depression will be examined as well as current stressors such as deaths in the family, accidents, current health conditions and the like. Increasingly, traumas such as military combat experiences are causing a marked rise in the number of people experiencing depression. Divorce, moving from one location to another and even the normal changes in life such as children leaving the home to attend college can lead to depressive states.
The most prevalent signs of depression are:
1) Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
2) Sadness, irritability, hopelessness, restlessness and aggression
3) Low energy, sleeping too much or not enough
4) Feelings of unworthiness, guilt, low self-esteem
5) Thoughts of suicide, life is not worth living, inability to control thoughts
6) Lack of concentration, inability to complete tasks formerly done with ease
7) Drinking, drug use, reckless driving and other reckless behaviors
8) Unexplained aches and pains
Treatment for depressions, whether mild, seasonal or ongoing conditions, include medical treatment using prescription drugs and counseling or therapy to work through the complex feelings. It may also include regimens of improved exercise programs, eating a healthier diet and relaxation techniques such as quiet times, baths or showers and breathing exercises.
Family members living with those suffering with depression need to be supportive and understanding. They must also be aware of warning signs that a clinically depressed person may be considering harmful behavior such as suicide. Warning signs include:
1) Talk of hurting others or themselves
2) Strong feelings of hopelessness and feeling “trapped
3) Reckless use of a vehicle or other equipment, exhibiting a “death wish”
4) Saying goodbyes to friends and family members, getting affairs in place for end of life
5) Saying things such as “Everyone would be better off without me.”
6) A sudden switch in behavior from unhappiness to calm, happy behavior
For most people working to overcome depression, it’s possible to improve both physical and emotional stability by following a doctor’s orders and taking a prescription drug plus working to achieve a healthier lifestyle. For those with severe cases of clinical depression, it may take years to overcome the problems.
If you, or someone you know is fearful of suicidal behavior on the part of a family member, you can find help at one of several hotlines:
In the US, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273 TALK.
Or the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).
In the UK contact 1:08457 90 90 90
Internationally you’ll find suicide prevention help at www.befrienders.org
We live in a stressful and complex world. The mental health of our loved ones is of ultimate importance. It pays to be aware of the widespread occurrence of depression in all its degrees of severity from mild to major clinical states.
Inform yourself on the many forms of depression at: