A depressive disorder is a whole-body illness, involving the body, mood, and thoughts, and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, feels about himself or herself, and thinks about things. It is not the same as being unhappy or in a blue mood. Nor is it a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better.
Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression. During any one year period, nearly 19 million American adults suffer from depressive illness. Yet, treatment can alleviate symptoms in nearly 80 percent of cases.
Women experience depression about twice as often as men. Many hormonal factors may contribute to the increased rate of depression in women--particularly such factors as menstrual cycle changes, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, perimenopause, and menopause. Many women also face additional stresses such as responsibilities both at work and home, single parenthood, and caring for children and aging parents.
Many women are also particularly vulnerable after the birth of a baby. The hormonal and physical changes, as well as the added responsibility of a new life, can be factors that lead to postpartum depression in some women. While transient "blues" are common in new mothers, a full-blown depressive episode is not a normal occurrence and requires active intervention. Treatment by a sympathetic health care provider and the family's emotional support for the new mother are prime considerations in aiding her to recover her physical and mental well-being and her ability to care for and enjoy the infant.
Depressive disorders come in different forms, as do other illnesses, such as heart disease. Three of the most prevalent types of depressive disorders include the following:
Within these types, there are variations in the number of symptoms, their severity, and persistence.
The following are the most common symptoms of depression. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. In general, nearly everyone suffering from depression has ongoing feelings of sadness, and may feel helpless, hopeless, and irritable.
The American Psychiatric Association suggests that professional help is advisable for those who have four or more of the following symptoms continually for more than two weeks:
Specific treatment for depression will be determined by your health care provider based on:
Generally, based on the outcome of evaluations, depressive disorders are treated with medication or either psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy.
You can also help yourself. Depressive disorders can make a person feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Such negative thoughts and feelings make some people feel like giving up. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and typically do not accurately reflect the actual circumstances. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime, consider the following:
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