Depression is a sustained mental state that leaves people feeling so sad and in despair that it affects their daily life. Feeling sad or down from time to time is a completely normal part of life, but when that sadness is so extreme or long-lasting that it impacts your life as well as the lives of those around you, you might have depression.
Symptoms and Types
Symptoms of depression go beyond mere sadness. They often include feelings of hopelessness, guilt, pessimism and other negative thoughts that are so severe that they affect the person's interaction with others. People with depression also shun activities that were once interesting or pleasurable to them, such as hobbies or sex. They may have fatigue, lack of energy and oversleep. Or, they might have insomnia and be anxious and irritable. The symptoms may even manifest themselves physically in the form of aches, pains, cramps or digestive problems.
When the symptoms last for at least two weeks and are obvious but not severe, this is usually considered minor depression. If the depression progresses to the point where it's disabling and affecting the person’s ability to function normally, it's considered major depressive disorder. There are other forms of depression as well, including postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder and depression related to dysthymic disorder or bipolar disorder.
Causes of Depression
Everyone is at risk for depression. It affects about 25 million Americans, or 5 to 8 percent of the population. But it does occur 70 percent more often in women than in men. The reasons why are complex, but it's probably due to a combination of family history, issues in a person’s life and biological or psychological factors.
Everyone with depression, even minor depression, can benefit from treatment. Several medications can help with symptoms, and most people with depression can also benefit from some form of counseling with a trained therapist. Usually, some combination of the two approaches is used to treat depression.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute of Mental Health; National Alliance on Mental Illness
Women who work extra-long hours face increased risk of depression.