Everyone feels sad from time to time. It’s only natural. Most people go through blue days or just periods of feeling down, especially after they experience a loss. But what experts call clinical depression is different from just being “down in the dumps.” The main difference is that the sad or empty mood does not go away after a couple of weeks – and everyday activities like eating, sleeping, socializing, or working can be affected.
Estimates indicate that perhaps one in three (some say one in five) adults in the general population experiences a depressive disorder (e.g., major depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia, postpartum depression, or seasonal affective disorder) at some point in their lives. In any given year, over one in 20 people will have a depressive episode. For each person suffering directly from depression, three or four times that number (relatives, friends, associates) will also be affected to some degree. It is impossible to obtain exact figures because so many people try to live with this condition without looking for help. Recent studies suggest that this condition is on the rise, especially among single women, women in poverty, single men, and adolescents. National tragedies or natural or environmental disasters can also generate depressive symptoms for large parts of a population.
A depressive disorder can change a person’s moods, thoughts, and feelings. Without appropriate treatment, this condition can go on for a very long time – weeks, months, or years. Even among those suffering from depression, most do not know they have a treatable condition. Most blame themselves or may be blamed by others. This leads to the alienation of family and friends who, if they knew of the illness, would likely offer support and help find effective treatment. Although this is one of our most devastating emotional disorders, treatment can bring relief to over eighty percent of those who experience depression.
Several causes of depression have been identified. For example, the illness has been seen to run in families, suggesting that some people may have a genetic predisposition to depression – and this may show itself particularly during times of stress. However, it is important to note that just because you have a family member with depression, you are not necessarily going to suffer from this condition yourself.