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Depression: What You Need To KnowYour doctor believes you have a depressive illness and wants you to have this brief pamphlet to read and hold on to so that you can refer to it as often as you need. It provides important information about depressive illnesses. It may stimulate questions you may wish to discuss with your doctor or a mental health professional. Or you may wish to share it with a family member, friend, colleague, minister, school official, or other community helpers.
What Is a Depressive Illness?A depressive illness is an illness involving your body, mood, thoughts and behavior. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. A depressive illness is not a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help over 80 percent of those who suffer from depression
Types of DepressionDepressive illnesses come in different forms just as do other illnesses, such as heart disease. This pamphlet briefly describes three of the most prevalent types of depressive illnesses. However, within these types there are variations in the number of symptoms, their severity, and persistence. Check with your doctor if you need more information about your type of depressive illness.
Major depression is manifested by combination of symptoms (see symptom list that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. These disabling episodes of depression can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.
Not everyone who is depressed or manic experiences every symptom. Some people experience a few symptoms, some many. Also, severity of symptoms varies with individuals.
Symptoms of Depression
Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed, including sex
Insomnia, early-morning waking or oversleeping
Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
Another type of depressive illness is manic depressive illness each year, also called bipolar depression. Not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive illnesses, manic-depressive illness involves cycles of depression and elation or mania. Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but most often they are gradual. When in the depressed cycle, you can have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive illness. When in the manic cycle, any or all symptoms listed under mania may be experienced. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment. For example, unwise business or financial decisions may be made when in a manic phase.
Causes of DepressionThere is a risk for developing depression when there is a family history, indicating that a biological vulnerability can be inherited. The risk may be somewhat higher for those with bipolar depression. However, not everybody with a genetic vulnerability develops the illness. Apparently additional factors, possibly a stressful environment and other psychosocial factors are involved in the onset of depression.
Though major depression seems to occur, generation after generation, in some families, it can also occur in people who have no family history of depression. Whether the disease is inherited or not, it is evident that individuals with major depressive illness often have too little or too much of certain neurochemicals.
Psychological makeup also plays a role in vulnerability to depression. People who have low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, or who are readily overwhelmed by stress are prone to depression.
A serious loss, chronic illness, difficult relationship, financial problem or any unwelcome change in life patterns can also trigger a depressive episode. Very often, a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors is involved in the onset of a depressive illness.
TreatmentsA variety of antidepressant medications and psychotherapies can be used to treat depressive illnesses. Some people do well with psychotherapy, some with antidepressants. Some do best with combined treatment: medication to gain relatively quick symptom relief and psychotherapy to learn more effective ways to deal with life's problems. Depending on your diagnosis and severity of symptoms, you may be prescribed medication and/or treated with one of the several forms of psychotherapy that have proven effective for depression. It is important to note that most people can be successfully treated for depression on an outpatient basis.
Three groups of antidepressant medications have been used to treat depressive illnesses: tricyclics monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and lithium. Lithium is the treatment of choice for manic-depressive illness and some forms of recurring, major depression. Sometimes your doctor will try a variety of antidepressants before finding the medication or combination of medications most effective for you. Sometimes the dosage must be increased to be effective.