Understanding Depression

Posted on 02/21/2014 05:58:00 AM

Depression affects one in ten Americans, but it’s hard to talk about. The word is something we toss around casually--“I’m so depressed! Our team didn’t make the play-offs”; or “My mom grounded me because I got a C in math-I’m so depressed!”; or, “”We went out on 3 dates but now she wants to be  just friends. How depressing.” 


More accurate words might be disappointed, frustrated, or sad. These emotions are part of a normal, healthy life. With a little time, we usually rebound and are fully engaged in life again.


Depression is different. It shows up often without a reason. It is more global, meaning it covers every aspect of one’s life, and can last weeks or months.


Commons Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.


Andrew Solomon, a well-known writer about depression wrote, “"The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality”.  My friend Sharon paraphrased Solomon, saying, “You don't perceive there's a veil of sadness over you, but rather that the veil of happiness has been lifted, and that you're seeing things as they really are.”


Another friend, Heather, wrote, “Depression dulls things, makes me feel less, makes things look darker, makes food taste bland, makes things that usually bring happiness less satisfying somehow. I still look for those happier things. I still go through life and do my best to really live, and I have degrees of happiness within a more confined range of feelings. I just can't seem to connect the way I want to. Everything is muffled, limited, farther out of reach, insulated. It's very difficult to explain.”


For those of us who have never suffered from depression, it can be difficult to understand why the sufferer doesn’t just get over it, work around it. Because we can’t “see” depression, like we could a broken leg, we often don’t know that someone is suffering. Quite often, people with depressive symptoms don’t want others to know. The shame and stigma of having a mental health disorder continues to interfere with people getting help. So, people endure alone and unhelped. And, as I wrote about last month, suicide can become a seemingly logical solution to such an oppressive problem.


The good news is that there is help and while chronic depression may never be cured, it can be effectively managed. The bad news is when you’re carrying depression around, it is hard to do the things that help, and that is the very nature of the illness.


If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of depression, please seek support and treatment. Often your family doctor is a good place to start. Or, you can go to: This is the National Institute of Mental Health. There are many resources on this page and its’ links; it is an excellent starting point for getting help.

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