What is Depression?

Sad Girl in the Window

What is Depression?

People casually use the phrase, “I’m so depressed!” to say they are feeling down. But a temporary case of the blues – something we all experience – has nothing to do with real depression.

True depression is not the blues, sadness or even grief. It is an overwhelming despair so bleak that people who have experienced it say that it is the worst pain they have ever endured. Depression is a treatable mental illness. While there have been changes in people’s attitudes, the stigma associated with mental illnesses has meant that many people with depression never seek treatment. Yet, those who do have an excellent chance of recovery. Researchers estimate that people who receive treatment for depression respond well.

What are the Symptoms Like?

There is no x-ray or blood test for depression. Instead, you, your family and friends will notice that your mood, functioning, attitude and thoughts have changed. Many of the symptoms of depression are a case of too much – or too little.

For example, you may… • Be sleeping little or sleeping too much. • Have gained or lost weight. • Be highly agitated or sluggish and inert. • Be extremely sad or very bad tempered – or both.

You will also feel… • A loss of interest in the pleasures of life, as well as work, family and friends. • Unable to concentrate and make decisions. • Negative, anxious, trapped, unable to act. • Despairing, guilty and unworthy. • Fatigue and an overall loss of energy. • Suicidal – expressing thoughts and sometimes, making plans. • Numb – an awful feeling of emptiness. • Unexplained aches and pains.

A diagnosis of depression is arrived at when a person has been experiencing at least five of these symptoms for a period of two weeks or more.

A Special Word About The Association Between Depression and Physical Pain Researchers believe that there is a shared neural pathway for pain and depression with serotonin and norepinephrine involved in both mood and pain. People who are actually depressed may often talk to their physicians only about their physical pain. Research has shown that the higher the number of unexplained physical symptoms a person is experiencing, the more likely that they are suffering from depression. Depression is strongly suspected when physicians cannot find a physical source for the pain patients say they are experiencing. It is thought that depression may increase a person’s sensitivity to pain or may increase the suffering associated with pain.

Studies have also shown that, of those reporting nine or more physical pain symptoms, 60% had a mood disorder. When only one physical symptom was reported, only 2% were found to have mood disorder.

A high number of physical pain symptoms are also predictive of a relapse even after mood has lifted. Further, people who experience chronic pain as part of their depression are more likely to also have suicidal thoughts.

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