We all have periods in our life when we feel sad, lonely or “down in the dumps”, particularly after we have experienced loss. These periods or feelings are considered part of the normal experiences of life. Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss, or passing mood states, depression is persistent, and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity, and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and many other developed countries. These disorders effect almost 20 million people a year in this country and can occur to anyone, at any age, and to people of any race or ethnic group. Depression does occur twice as frequently in women as in men. Research indicates therapy, combined with medication are the most effective means of treatment.
The depressive disorders are grouped under a category called mood disorders. Included in this category are major depressive disorder, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, and mood disorders due to general medical conditions or substance abuse. For each of these mood disorders there are specific criteria that a person’s symptoms must meet in order to receive a diagnosis. Major depression and dysthymia, (a milder yet more enduring type of depression) are the most commons forms of depression.
Major or Clinical Depression: The symptoms of major depression represent a significant change from how a person functioned before, and is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once–pleasurable activities. The onset of the first episode of major depression may not be obvious if it is gradual or mild. When several of these symptoms occur at the same time, last longer than two weeks, and interfere with ordinary functioning, professional evaluation and treatment is needed.
Symptoms of Major Depression can include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Sleeping too much or too little, middle of the night or early morning waking
- Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain
- Loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- Restlessness, irritability
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment (such as chronic pain)
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Dysthymia: is a disorder with similar but longer-lasting and milder symptoms than major or clinical depression. This disorder lasts for at least two years, but is less disabling than major depression; for example, victims are usually able to go on working and do not need to be hospitalized. Although it may not disable a person it does prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well. Its rate is slightly lower than the rate of major depression. The symptoms usually appear in adolescence or young adulthood but in some cases do not emerge until middle age. Like major depression, dysthymia occurs twice as often in women as it does in men. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.
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