Depression: An Overview
Depression is a common, treatable mental illness with a clear biological component.
Evidence from neuroscience, genetics and clinical research demonstrates that
depression is a disorder of the brain. Depression is the most common psychiatric
disorder in the United States. Approximately 1 in 10 adults, or more than 19
million Americans suffer from depression each year. While depression is almost
twice as common in women than men, an estimated three to four million men also
have clinical depression. The average age of onset of depression occurs in
the early twenties.Nevertheless, depression can occur at any age.
At any time, between 1 and 2 percent of people over the age of 65 experience
symptoms of depression,but it is not a "normal" part of aging.
Men are not as likely to show
the typical signs of depression such as crying, sadness or loss of will. Therefore,
their depression may be hidden from family and friends who may encourage them
to seek help. In general, men are less likely to seek help for mental health
problems than women. Doctors are less likely to suspect depression in men and
are more likely to diagnose depression in women even when there may be another
medical explanation for their symptoms. Men's depression is often masked by
substance abuse or by working excessively long hours. Nearly twice as many
men (35.4%) as women (17.9%) suffer from a substance abuse/dependence problem
during their lifetime.
Symptoms of depression include sadness or depressed mood; loss of interest
or pleasure in usual activities; significant change in appetite or weight; insomnia
or sleeping excessively; agitation or slowing down that is noticeable to others;
fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; difficulty
concentrating, thinking or making decisions; and recurring thoughts of death
or suicide. Depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, plus at least five
or more of these symptoms, occurring nearly all day for at least two weeks,
are indicative of major depressive disorder.
There are a number of factors that may play a role in depression: the biochemical
basis, genetic influences, environmental factors, and comorbidity (concomitant
illness). Depression is believed to be biologically related to an imbalance
in the activity of the chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These messengers
convey electrical signals between nerve cells in the brain. Substantial evidence
suggests that an imbalance in the serotonin neurotransmitter system, in particular,
is involved. Family studies suggest genetic factors may contribute to the development
of a depressive disorder. Studies show that major depressive disorder is more
common among first-degree biological relatives of persons with this disorder
than among the general population. Some people may also have a biologic predisposition
toward depressive illness that remains dormant until it is triggered by environmental
factors. They may include death of a loved one, separation from loved ones through
divorce or other events, relationship difficulties, serious financial problems
or other medical illnesses. For example, men with depression are more than
twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who are not depressed. In
addition, men with depression have a 71 percent higher heart-disease risk, and
are twice as likely to die of heart disease than men who do not suffer from
More than 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental
disorder, commonly depression or a substance abuse disorder. Four times as
many men than women complete suicide.
Depression is frequently treated with medicines, psychotherapy or a combination
of the two. Psychotherapy, otherwise known as "talk therapy," helps a patient
identify, understand and resolve life difficulties that may be contributing
to the depression. The most common choice of prescription medical therapy for
patients with depression is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
such as Paxil CR™, Prozac, or Effexor among others.
If you or someone you care about might be suffering from
depression, seek medical attention.
Created: 1/27/2004  - Donnica Moore, M.D.