What is depression? – Helen M. Farrell

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world; in the United States, close to ten percent of adults struggle with the disease. But because it’s a mental illness, it can be a lot harder to understand than, say, high cholesterol. Helen M. Farrell examines the symptoms and treatments of depression, and gives some tips for how you might help a friend who is suffering.

Source: What is depression? – Helen M. Farrell

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What does depression feel like?

Image: Dolce Far Niente by John William Godward

Dolce Far Niente by John William Godward

“It was not really alarming at first, since the change was subtle, but I did notice that my surroundings took on a different tone at certain times: the shadows of nightfall seemed more somber, my mornings were less buoyant, walks in the woods became less zestful, and there was a moment during my working hours in the late afternoon when a kind of panic and anxiety overtook me…” – William Styron, Darkness Visible

Sometimes the Depression Self-Screening Tests are just too clinical, and the symptoms don’t really “click” with you. Some of the criteria are general, and if you’re suffering from depression, specifics are easier to understand.

I know that I might not have diagnosed myself with depression just on the basis of those symptoms. I had no change in appetite, and no sleep problems (getting out of bed was what was difficult). Below are some un-clinical symptoms.

  • Things just seem “off” or “wrong.”
  • You don’t feel hopeful or happy about anything in your life.
  • You’re crying a lot for no apparent reason, either at nothing, or something that normally would be insignificant.
  • You feel like you’re moving (and thinking) in slow motion.
  • Getting up in the morning requires a lot of effort.
  • Carrying on a normal conversation is a struggle. You can’t seem to express yourself.

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What is Depression (and What is it Not?)

Image: Detail from the Women of Amphissa by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Detail from The Women of Amphissa by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

“People who don’t know [what depression is], who say it’s self-indulgence, sound callous, but it’s not callousness born of indifference; I think it’s callousness born of ignorance. That kind of ignorance we’ve got to get rid of, and little by little I suppose, we will. You say to them, ‘It’s a pity you don’t know. I’m sure that if you knew, I’m sure that if you knew, not only wouldn’t you say that, you’d try to help in one way or another.”- Mike Wallace, On the Edge of Darkness

Note:I wrote this a few years ago, and it has made its way around the Net uncredited. If you want to reprint it, please make sure you credit Wing of Madness.

What Depression Is:

  • Depression is an illness, in the same way that diabetes or heart disease are illnesses.
  • Depression is an illness that affects the entire body, not just the mind.
  • Depression is an illness that one in five people will suffer during their lifetime.
  • Depression is the leading cause of alcoholism, drug abuse and other addictions.
  • Depression is an illness that can be successfully treated in more than eighty percent of the people who have it.
  • Depression is an equal-opportunity illness – it affects all ages, all races, all economic groups and both genders. Women, however, suffer from depression almost twice as much as men do.
  • At least half of the people suffering from depression do not get proper treatment.
  • Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide.
  • Depression is second only to heart disease in causing lost work days in America.
  • Unipolar major depression is the leading cause of disability.

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How Depression May Affect Your Life

Image: Flaming June by Frederic Lord Leighton

Flaming June by Frederic Lord Leighton

  • Your place is a mess; laundry and dishes are piled up, mail is unopened, etc. (Assuming you usually stay on top of these things).
  • You’ve been making excuses to friends why you can’t get together with them, or you’re telling them you’re “just too tired.”
  • You’ve really let yourself go – you’re wearing clothes that make you look dumpy, you’ve stopped exercising, you’re not shaving unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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alt.support.depression FAQ Part 2 of 5

Image: The Sorceress by John William Waterhouse Part 2 of 5
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**Causes** (cont.)
– What initiates the alteration in brain chemistry?
– Is a tendency to depression inherited?

**Treatment**
– What sorts of psychotherapy are effective for depression?

**Medication**
– Do certain drugs work best with certain depressive illnesses? What are the guidelines for choosing a drug?
– How do you tell when a treatment is not working? How do you know when to switch treatments?
– How do antidepressants relieve depression?
– Are Antidepressants just “happy pills?”
– What percentage of depressed people will respond to antidepressants?
– What does it feel like to respond to an antidepressant? Will I feel euphoric if my depression responds to an antidepressant?
– What are the major categories of anti-depressants?
– What are the side-effects of some of the commonly used antidepressants?
– What are some techniques that can be used by people taking antidepressants to make side effects more tolerable?
– Many antidepressants seem to have sexual side effects. Can anything be done about those side-effects?
– What should I do if my antidepressant does not work?

Causes (cont.)
————–

Q. What initiates the alteration in brain chemistry?

It can be either a psychological or a physical event. On the physical  side, a hormonal change may provide the initial trigger: some women dip into depression briefly each month during their premenstrual phase; some find that the hormone balance created by oral contraceptives disposes them to depression; pregnancy, the end of pregnancy, and menopause have also been cited. Men’s hormone levels fluctuate as deeply but less obviously.

It is well known that certain chronic illnesses have depression as a frequent consequence: some forms of heart disease, for example, and Parkinsonism. This seems to be the result of a chemical effect rather than a purely psychological one, since other, equally traumatic and serious illnesses don’t show the same high risk of depression.
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