Depression is one of the most common mental health issues experienced by many. The public health community estimates that half or more of our population will experience depression in their lifetime. What is depression? What causes it? How do we recognize it? What can we do about it?
These are pertinent questions for Mental Health Awareness Month. Depression is a mood that denotes sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure. It can be "feeling down" too long after experiencing a loss or major disappointment. It can also be so pronounced that it causes thoughts of giving up on life.
It interferes in day to day life by causing individuals to avoid usual activities and isolate themselves from others. Depressed persons are often pessimistic and generally unhappy or irritable most of the time.
A wide range of experiences can cause depression. Some of the more obvious are grief over the loss of a loved one or a trauma such as 9/11.
A serious physical health problem or possibly the medication for such an illness can cause depression. A poor diet, the lack of fresh air, sunshine or exercise may be causes of depression for some individuals. Too much stress in life might trigger depression. Alcohol or drug abuse may also be a cause and for sure makes it worse. In some cases, depression can be caused by an inherited chemical imbalance that can be traced through a family tree just as diabetes can be passed from one generation to the next. The lack of serotonin in our body is believed to cause the condition of depression just as the lack of insulin causes diabetes.
Here is a list of symptoms of depression. No single symptom indicates depression, but a person might be depressed if several of these conditions are observed.
1. Feeling sad or empty most of the time.
2. Being in an irritable mood much of the time (especially in children or adolescents).
3. Marked decrease in interest or pleasure in daily activities.
4. Significant weight change that is not purposeful and occurs in a relatively short amount of time (i.e. one month).
5. Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping).
6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate.
8. Thoughts of harming oneself.
9. Feelings of hopelessness.
If you or someone you know seems to be experiencing several of these symptoms, further screening could be beneficial and could save a life. There is a self-screening tool on the Internet at www.depression-screening.com.
Be sure to read the disclaimer and don't try to diagnose and treat yourself. Consult with a mental health professional or your family doctor if you have concerns. Depression is very treatable when properly diagnosed and the appropriate intervention occurs. Remember, the life you save could be your own.
(Richard Draeger, M.A., is licensed psychologist at Northern Pines.)
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