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Clinical Depression

We've all had the blues, but how do you know when you're clinically depressed? Depression is too often missed, misdiagnosed or mistreated.

The classic symptoms of clinical depression include depressed mood, decreased ability to think or make decisions, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, decreased appetite, lost interest or pleasure in most activities, sleep disturbances, apathy, decreased energy, and fatigue. Of course, these symptoms may be the signs of many other medical conditions as well, so your physician will need to do a thorough medical evaluation. If depression is your diagnosis, pursue medical treatment sooner rather than later- the same way you would for any other medical illness.

Depression is a common word in our vocabulary. We use it to refer to hard economic times (The Great Depression). We use it to talk about the weather (tropical depression). And we commonly use it to express our feelings or emotions saying things like "This weather is depressing" or "This room is depressing".   Many women glibly talk about being depressed over a minor event.  But for nearly 19 million adult Americans (9.5% of our adult population), depression is a serious medical condition that is misunderstood, underdiagnosed, and too often, undertreated.

Everyone has felt sad or depressed or "down in the dumps" at some point in their lives; this is totally normal. What is not normal is for that feeling of depression to linger and intensify, nearly every day, all day, for two weeks or longer, and to interfere with nearly all aspects of a person's life: the ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Without treatment, symptoms can last for months or even years.

Depression does not discriminate.  It affects individuals of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.  It also affects both genders, although it is diagnosed twice as often in women as in men.  One in four women can expect to be diagnosed with depression during her lifetime.

Depression increases the risk for subsequent physical illness, disability and premature death.  According to the World Health Organization, depression is projected to become the leading cause of disability by the year 2020.  Depression affects a person's quality of life and also strains relationships with family and friends.  Depression is very costly in terms of absenteeism, lost productivity, reduced quality of work, employee turnover, and on-the-job accidents. Depression costs the U.S. an estimated $44 billion per year.

Signs and symptoms of depression:

A majority of the following symptoms must be present for at least two weeks in order to be diagnosed with clinical depression.

  • persistent sadness or unhappiness
  • lethargy
  • loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • irritability
  • sudden change in appetite
  • disruption of normal sleep pattern
  • physical discomfort
  • difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • thoughts of suicide or death.

It is important to note that these symptoms will not just go away on their own.  Clinical depression is a very real medical condition that requires proper diagnosis and treatment.

For more information about depression or other mental health issues, click here.

Created: 11/14/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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