Depression is a medical condition characterized by long-lasting feelings of intense sadness and hopelessness coupled with additional mental and physical changes. The condition often affects a person’s personal, social, and/or professional life.
Depression: Who it Affects
About one in five women and one in ten men will suffer from depression at some point in life. Depression in children and adolescents occurs less commonly than in adults. Almost 1.5 million Canadians have serious depression at any given time, but less than one third of these people seek medical help.
Depression: Different Types
There are several different types of depression, and the diagnosis is mostly determined by the nature and intensity of the mental and physical symptoms, the duration of the symptoms, and the specific cause of the symptoms, if that is known.
- Clinical depression (or major depressive disorder, MDD)
- MDD is the most serious type of depression, in terms of the number and severity of symptoms, but there are significant individual differences in the symptoms and severity. People affected with major depression may not have suicidal tendencies, and may never have received medical treatment. The person’s interest and pleasure in many activities, energy levels, and eating and sleeping patterns are usually altered.
- Dysthymia (or minor depression)
- Dysthymia refers to a low-to-moderate level of depression that persists for at least two years, and often longer. While the occurrence of symptoms is not as frequent as in major depression, dysthymia can result in as much disability as major depression. It is often not recognized that dysthymia is a medical condition that responds equally effectively to the same treatments as major depression. Some people with dysthymia develop a major depression at some time during the course of their depression.
- Bipolar depression (or manic depression)
- Bipolar includes both high and low mood swings, and a variety of other significant symptoms not present in other types of depression.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- SAD is a sub-type of depression that regularly occurs at the same time of year (most often in the fall or winter months in North America).
- Post-partum depression
- Post-partum begins a few weeks after giving birth and is a sub-type of depression. Post-partum depression is different from the temporary state known as the “baby blues” that often happens 24 to 72 hours after a woman gives birth. The temporary state of “baby blues” is caused by the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and after giving birth and typically resolves in less than a week.
Depression: Varying Symptoms and Degree of Intensity
Although we all feel sad sometimes, clinical (major) depression is diagnosed when a person experiences depressed mood (sadness) and/or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for at least two weeks, plus five of the following symptoms:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Slowed reactions
- Lack of motivation or energy
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping) or chronic oversleeping
- Noticeable changes in activity level (agitated or slowed down)
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
Clinical depression may vary in its severity, and in its extreme forms (i.e., thoughts of suicide) can be life threatening and require immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of other forms of depression, although generally milder, may still negatively affect a person’s daily activities and quality of life.
- Most types of depression respond to either an antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. Sometimes people with depression are unaware that medications can help them, or they are at first hesitant to take antidepressant medications to manage their condition. However there are many different medications available today to help depression treatment. You and your doctor can work together to decide what medication is best for you.Medications used for depression treatment begin to work after 2 to 4 weeks of treatment, although improvements in some symptoms may be seen within the first few weeks. In some situations, more than one medication will need to be tried until the most appropriate one is found for an individual. All medications, including antidepressants, can have side effects. Your doctor and pharmacist should explain common side effects to you and help you to manage them should they occur.
- Psychotherapy can be an important part of managing depression. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and some family doctors are trained to help people recognize and overcome the kind of thinking that causes depression. Support groups, friends, and family can also help.
- Other Treatments:
- In more severe cases, Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) is used, but is generally reserved for those who do not respond to medications.Light therapy (or “photo therapy,” which involves controlled exposure to artificial sunlight) can help some people overcome symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder.Physical activity and sports can improve depression by helping to relieve anxiety, increase appetite, aid sleep, and improve mood and self-esteem. Exercise also increases the body’s production of endorphins, a natural mood-elevating hormone.An active lifestyle, supportive family and friends, and a positive outlook can go a long way in coping with depression.
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