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Life is full of emotional ups and downs. But when the "down" times are long lasting or interfere with your ability to function, you may be suffering from depression. Depression affects everyone differently. It can affect your moods, emotions, behaviors, and relationships with friends and family. Sometimes symptoms last short periods of time, but for some people they persist. Everyone experiences feelings of sadness and stress from time to time, but if these feelings increase in duration and severity and you are unable to function as usual, you should talk to your doctor. There are many factors that are at play in the development of depression. Some of these factors are genetic, biochemical (dysregulation of certain brain chemicals, called neurotransmitters), environmental, psychological and social.
There are different types of depressive illnesses:
- Major Depression: depressive symptoms for at least 2 weeks but frequently for several months or longer. Episodes can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.
- Dysthymia: depressive symptoms are present but milder, and last at least 2 years. Usually there is a lack of zest and enthusiasm for life, and life seems joyless and fatiguing.
- Bipolar Disorder: also called Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder involves cycles of depressive symptoms alternating with mania. During manic episodes, people may be overly active, talkative, euphoric, or irritable, spend money irresponsibly, and get involved in sexual misadventures.
- persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
- loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
- restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
- sleeping too much or too little, early-morning awakening
- appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
- decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down"
- thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
- abnormally elevated mood
- decreased need for sleep
- grandiose notions
- increased talking
- racing thoughts
- increased activity, including sexual activity
- markedly increased energy
- poor judgment that leads to risk-taking behavior
- inappropriate social behavior
The good news is that depression is very treatable. Just as there are many causes and types of depression, there exist many treatment options. Some of the most common treatments are medications, herbal therapies and psychotherapy. There are also things you can do for yourself like participating in support groups, eating well, and exercising. If you think you have some of the symptoms of depression, you should talk to your primary care doctor, or you could ask that he or she refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker.
"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."