For most people sadness and grief are temporary feelings that come and go depending on circumstances. These feelings are a normal part of the human experience that people often use to cope with difficult situations or traumatic life events, and as so can be beneficial to your health. It’s easy to understand then why depression is often misunderstood as just feeling sad. However, major depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is something altogether different than the normal feelings of sadness we all experience from time to time.
Major depression is a complex issue that can often lead to other health problems if not treated effectively. According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people suffer from depression world wide, or roughly 5% of the world population. Unfortunately, due to lack of available mental health services and the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people do not receive the treatment they need to get better. (1)
Some of the most common symptoms of major depression include sustained periods of overwhelming sadness and feelings of hopelessness, loss of appetite, low-energy levels, and losing interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyable. (2) These are not the only symptoms, however. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V, considers a patient to be depressed when at least five of the following symptoms are present every day for at least two weeks:
While it is not the only factor, depression has been linked to genetics.(4) If your parents or other family members suffer from depression you may be at a higher risk than most. The other common cause of depression is related to environmental factors such as job loss or death of a family member or close friend. Sometimes depression can occur seemingly without any cause at all. (3)
Not everyone with depression will appear sad or angry. It’s important to pay attention to the warning signs. If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, it’s vital that you seek a professional medical opinion. For most people suffering from depression, a combination of medication and psychotherapy will effectively treat the symptoms. Sometimes more than one medication may be needed. For more severe cases, a hospital stay or an outpatient treatment program may be necessary. (5)
If you are diagnosed with depression, stick to your treatment plan. Learn all you can about your symptoms and triggers. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs and maintain an healthy lifestyle by eating healthy and exercising regularly. Find a support group and don’t be afraid to talk about your problems with others that have had similar experiences of depression. Avoid isolation. Whether it’s support group or your favorite group activity, being around others can help you maintain an healthier outlook. Writing in a journal can provide an outlet to express your pain, anger, and sadness in a healthy way. It may also be beneficial to cut back on some of your obligations when possible to alleviate unnecessary stress. Set realistic goals, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you experience occasional setbacks.
It is important to avoid making important life decisions when you are suffering through a bout of depression. Decisions like these can have a longstanding impact on your everyday life and the effects can linger, making recovery more difficult. If you must make an important decision while depressed, seek help and guidance from someone you can trust.