Depression is one of the most common and treatable of all mental illnesses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in any six-month period, over 10 million Americans (340 million people in the world) suffer from this disease. One in four women and one in ten men can expect to develop it during their lifetime. No one is immune from depression—it occurs in people of all social classes, all countries and all cultural settings. Eighty to 90 percent of those who suffer from depression can be effectively treated, and nearly all people who receive treatment derive some benefit.

The term "depression" can be confusing since it's often used to describe normal emotional reactions. At the same time, the illness may be hard to recognize because its symptoms may be so easily attributed to other causes. People tend to deny the existence of depression by saying things like, "She has a right to be depressed! Look at what she's gone through." This attitude fails to recognize that people can go through tremendous hardships and stress without developing depression, and that those who suffer from depression can and should seek treatment.

Symptoms of Depression

Nearly everyone suffering from depression has pervasive feelings of sadness. In addition, depressed people may feel helpless, hopeless, and irritable. You should seek professional help if you or someone you know has had four or more of the following symptoms continually, or most of the time, for more than two weeks:

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  • Change of appetite, with either significant weight loss not attributable to dieting or weight gain.
  • Change in sleeping patterns, such as fitful sleep, inability to sleep, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much.
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed.
  • Fatigue, Loss of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness.
  • Feelings of inappropriate guilt.
  • Inability to concentrate or think, indecisiveness.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide. (Note: People suffering this symptom should receive treatment immediately!)
  • Melancholia (defined as overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief), accompanied by waking at least two hours earlier than normal in the morning, feeling more depressed in the morning, and moving significantly more slowly.
  • Disturbed thinking, a symptom developed by some severely depressed persons. For example, severely depressed people sometimes have beliefs not based in reality about physical disease, sinfulness, or poverty.
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches. (Depression can also exacerbate existing physical symptoms such as backaches, headaches and aching joints.)

See How to Spot Depression in an Adolescent with Scoliosis

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For many victims of depression, these mental and physical feelings seem to follow them night and day, appear to have no end, and are not alleviated by happy events or good news. Some people are so disabled by feelings of despair that they cannot even build up the energy to call a doctor. If someone else calls for them, they may refuse to go because they are so hopeless that they think there's no point to it.

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