When a person is depressed, it's more than just a feeling of sadness. Sadness is an emotion and emotions are normal and naturally come and go. Depression is different. Depression is feeling sad or depressed most of the day, nearly every day, for weeks at a time. In addition, those who are depressed will often lose interest or pleasure in activities they usually like to do. Depression is a serious illness and is associated with increased rates of other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Fortunately for those suffering from depression, it is treatable.
"Sadness is a normal reaction to life's setbacks or disappointments," explained psychiatrist Michael Gorjanc, M.D. "Depression is different from normal sadness because it affects our day-to-day activities. It can interfere with our jobs, studies and our ability to socialize with family and friends and cause people significant distress in life."
Common Signs of Depression
"Depression can vary from person to person, but there are some common symptoms," Dr. Gorjanc added. "The more symptoms a person has and the longer they've lasted, the more likely it is that person is depressed. When these symptoms begin to affect our usual lives - our jobs, school performance, or affect us socially - then it's probably time to seek help."
Faces of Depression
Depression may appear differently in men, in women, in young people or in older adults.
In Men: "Depression can be a very debilitating illness, but the good news is it can be effectively treated," Dr. Gorjanc continued. "I began medical practice as a family physician and it's been my experience that in general, men are less likely than women to seek medical care, of any kind. This also seems to be true among those who seek mental health care, and some folks even think depression indicates they have some sort of weakness or character flaw. This could not be further from the truth. Again, depression is a serious - and treatable - disease. Sometimes people don't understand that they're depressed and may become more irritable or they might begin drinking or smoking more, or isolate themselves from others. Men also have a higher risk of completed suicide, so we should always take the signs and symptoms of depression seriously."
In Women: Rates of depression are significantly higher in women than they are in men and although men complete suicide more often, women attempt suicide more than men. In addition, women may experience sadness, irritability and clinical depression around the time of their periods. Hormonal changes can affect our emotions and women can become depressed both during pregnancy and after the birth of their baby. In fact, post-partum depression may be so intense that women may not want to care for their newborn at all. In this situation, mothers may experience feelings of guilt or fear because they lack the usual desire to care for their child.
In Teens: "While some teenagers may appear depressed or sad, others may not," Dr. Gorjanc said. "In fact, irritability, rather than depression, may be the predominant symptom in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be more easily irritated and may have a shorter temper than usual. Although unnamed, unidentified emotions may emerge as anger at any stage of life, younger children may be especially prone to this because they may lack the vocabulary to explain how they're feeling. Left untreated, childhood depression can lead to problems at home and school. Drug abuse, problems with self esteem or aggressive behavior may also arise and some children may experience suicidal thoughts or even begin planning suicide. It is important to provide an environment that allows your children to feel safe enough to explain how they're doing. Any thoughts of aggression, self harm or suicide must always be taken seriously."
In Older Adults: "Depression is not considered to be a normal part of aging, but chronic health problems, the loss of a spouse or the loss of independence can sometimes lead to depression," advised Dr. Gorjanc. "Older adults often experience sleep and appetite disturbances which are very treatable. More subtle signs may include memory problems and confusion that can mimic the early stages of dementia. With treatment, these dementia-like symptoms often resolve. Elderly men are at an increased risk of suicide, so appropriate diagnosis and treatment is extremely important."
Causes and Risk Factors
Depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. These factors include family genetics, health issues, lifestyle choices, personality styles coping skills, and relationships. However, certain risk factors make a person more vulnerable to depression, including:
Family history of depression
Alcohol or drug abuse
Childhood trauma or abuse
Loss of a loved one
Lack of social support
Loss of your home
Job loss and financial problems
Chronic health problems
"Just as the symptoms and causes of depression are different in different people, so are the treatment options. In general, treatment choices include talk therapy, antidepressant medications and lifestyle changes. Change can be difficult, but not more difficult than living with depression," he said.
Lifestyle changes that can make a positive impact on depression include:
Cultivating supportive relationships
Getting regular exercise and sleep
Eating a healthy diet
Practicing relaxation techniques
Challenging negative thought patterns
"If support from your family and friends and things like lifestyle changes don't seem to help, it's not a bad idea to talk it over with a professional," concluded Dr. Gorjanc. "There are very effective treatments for depression. You don't have to suffer with depression."
Michael Gorjanc, M.D., is a board certified psychiatrist affiliated with Salem Community Hospital. He is the medical director of the Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center located at 2020 East State Street, Suite J, in Salem. The phone number is 330-337-4935.
The Center offers specialized outpatient treatment and support for adults facing a range of mental health issues.