Clinical Depression: A Treatable Illness

5/22/2015, 5:13 p.m.
It is not uncommon during the winter months, when there is less daylight and we are often stuck indoors, to ...

It is not uncommon during the winter months, when there is less daylight and we are often stuck indoors, to experience a case of the “blues.” As a result, we look forward to spring’s arrival. But if those “down” feelings persist for more than a few weeks and/or you are having difficulty functioning in daily life, you may be experiencing more than just a seasonal bout of the blues. You may be suffering from a common yet serious medical illness called clinical depression.

One-fourth of all women and one-eighth of all men will suffer at least one episode or occurrence of depression during their lifetimes. The Medical Society of the State of New York is, therefore, passing on the following information from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to connect those in need of treatment to the mental health care system.

What is depression?

Depression is more than the blues or the blahs; it is more than the everyday ups and downs. When that down mood, along with other symptoms, lasts for more than a couple of weeks, the condition may be clinical depression. Clinical depression is a serious health problem that affects the total person. In addition to feelings, it can change behavior, physical health and appearance, academic performance, social activity and the ability to handle everyday decisions and pressures.

What causes clinical depression?

Although all the causes of depression are not yet known, there seem to be biological and emotional factors that may increase the likelihood that an individual will develop a depressive disorder. Research over the past decade strongly suggests a genetic link to depressive disorders; depression can run in families. Difficult life experiences and certain personal patterns, such as difficulty handling stress, low self-esteem or extreme pessimism about the future, can increase the chances of becoming depressed.

Are all depressive disorders alike?

There are various forms or types of depression. Some people experience only one episode of depression in their whole life, but many have several recurrences. Some depressive episodes begin suddenly for no apparent reason, while others can be associated with a life situation or stress. Sometimes people who are depressed cannot perform even the simplest daily activities – such as getting out of bed or getting dressed; others go through the motions, but it is clear they are not acting or thinking as usual.

The following are the most common symptoms of depression:

• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood;

• Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism;

• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness;

• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex;

• Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”;

• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions;

• Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping;

• Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain;

• Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts;

• Restlessness, irritability; and

• Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.

What is involved in a physical examination?