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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    Depression Diagnosis

    Leonardo da Vinci Head of a Young Woman with Tousled Hair
    Leonardo da Vinci Head of a Young Woman with Tousled Hair

    At this point, diagnosing depression and other mental illnesses is not a cut and dried, simple matter. There are no definitive medical tests that can be performed, and there are many types of depression that are different from each other in fairly subtle ways.

    A good place to start is Depression Symptoms and Screening, which contains links to several online tests. Although these self-tests don’t take the place of an evaluation by a medical professional, they will give you an idea of what your symptoms may be saying.

    Your partner in finding out whether you are depressed or not is your doctor. After ruling out any physical causes, such as thyroid dysfunction, the doctor will ask a series of questions covering family history, past and current medical problems, and current state of mind. The doctor will also try to determine if there have been past episodes of depression.

    The doctor will compare your symptoms to the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to determine if you do have depression, and if so, which form. A good mental health professional will not rely solely on the DSM-V, however. If a patient is displaying four instead of five of the criteria, that does not mean that he or she does not need treatment. Depressive disorders occur along a continuum from mild to severe, and it’s possible to fall somewhere between them.

    Next: Depression Treatment

    Articles and Information about Depression Diagnosis

  • Are You at Risk for Depression?
  • Depression Screening
  • Depression Self Test - Psychology Today
  • Depression Symptoms and Screening
  • Geriatric Depression Scale
  • How Depression May Affect Your Life
  • How to Recognize and Reduce the Risk of Postpartum Depression
  • What Does Depression Feel Like?
  • What is Depression (and What is it Not?)
  • What is Depression? TedEd video
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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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      DSM-IV Criteria for Depressive Disorders

      Major Depressive Disorder, Single Episode

      A. Presence of a single Major Depressive Episode.

      B. The Major Depressive Episode is not better accounted for by Schizoaffective Disorder and is not superimposed on Schizophrenia, Schizophreniform Disorder, Delusional Disorder, or Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

      Image: Flora by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
      Flora by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

      C. There has never been a Manic Episode, a Mixed Episode, or a Hypomanic Episode. Note: This exclusion does not apply if all of the manic-like, mixed-like, or hypomanic-like episodes are substance or treatment induced or are due to the direct physiological effects of a general medical condition.

      Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent

      A. Presence of a two or more Major Depressive Episodes.

      B. The Major Depressive Episodes are not better accounted for by Schizoaffective Disorder and is not superimposed on Schizophrenia, Schizophreniform Disorder, Delusional Disorder, or Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

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      Depression Symptoms and Screening

      “I am the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be a cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better I cannot tell; I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better.” – Abraham Lincoln

      Image: The Sorceress by John William Waterhouse
      The Sorceress by John William Waterhouse

      Depression falls into two major categories; unipolar depression and bipolar disorder (previously known as “manic depression.”) The first is characterized by a persistent low mood, and the second is characterized by extremes in both low and high moods.

      Major Depression Symptoms

      If five or more of the following symptoms have been present in either you or someone you know for more than two weeks*, please talk to your doctor about the possibility of depression being present. Keep in mind that these symptoms could indicate a medical condition other than depression.

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      Are you at risk for depression?

      Boreas by John William Waterhouse

      Most people know the risk factors for illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure, but not many people realize that clinical depression has risk factors associated with it also. Having these risk factors doesn’t mean you will suffer from depression, only that you may be predisposed to it. Below, in no particular order, are listed some of these risk factors.

      • There is a history of mental illness in your family.
      • You are a woman. One in four women suffers from depression at some point in her life.
      • You were sexually abused as a child.
      • Someone close to you is depressed (depression can be “contagious”).
      • You have a chronic illness or are in chronic pain.
      • You lost a parent at an early age, either through death or abandonment.
      • You have heart disease. One in five heart patients has severe depression.
      • Someone close to you has recently died, or you are experiencing another stressful life event such as divorce or financial problems.
      • You are taking a medication that can cause depression as a side-effect.

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