What Is Depression?
Clinical depression affects as many as 17-20 million Americans, about 7 percent of the population, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It does not discriminate, affecting every age, ethnic and socioeconomic background. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Depression often first appears during the late teens to mid-20s, though it can strike at any age. The good news is that more than 80 percent of depression patients respond well to treatment and a number of breakthroughs are on the horizon, according to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
Those with a family history of clinical depression typically are at a higher risk of developing symptoms as well. While brain research continues to develop, experts believe that depression involves imbalances in neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that affect communication between nerves and cells.
Environmental factors also can play a part, as can some medications and diet deficiencies. Depression also may be entwined with drug or alcohol abuse, with about 30 percent of those with a substance abuse problem also having depression.
The National Institutes of Health defines several types of depression. Major depression, for example, interferes with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat or enjoy life. Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is a depressed mood that lasts for two years or more. A person with PDD may have periods of less severe symptoms as well.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
Clinical depression is different than simply having a bad day. Those with clinical depression are depressed most of the day, nearly every day. They may experience frequent bouts of diminished interest or pleasure in activities. Changes in appetite may result in weight loss or gain. Sleeping patterns, energy levels, mood and anxiety levels all can be affected, too. Those with clinical depression may have difficulty concentrating, may increase drug or alcohol use or may have thoughts of suicide.