FORT LEE, Va. -- Depression, often referred to as the “common cold of mental illness,” affects 6.7-9.5 percent of the American population each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetimes. The average age of onset for depression is 32, but about 3.3 percent of youth, ages 13-18 have experienced a debilitating depressive disorder.
The severity, frequency and duration of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and which type of depressive illness he or she has. Some common symptoms include persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings; feelings of hopelessness and helplessness; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; irritability; restlessness; loss of interest in hobbies that used to be pleasurable; decreased interest in sex; difficulty with concentration and memory; fatigue and decreased energy; insomnia or excessive sleeping; overeating or loss of appetite; thoughts of suicide; and general aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment.
If you experience these symptoms for two or more weeks, you should talk to your doctor. If you experience suicidal thoughts, you should seek help immediately.
You can check whether you are likely to have a depressive illness by using one of these Internet self-assessments: www.webmd.com/depression/depression-health-check; www.mayoclinic.com/health/deppression/MH00103_D; or http://psychcentral.com/cgi-bin/depression-quiz.cgi.
Depression is likely caused by multiple factors. Brain imaging studies have shown that the brain structure of individuals who are depressed looks different from that of individuals who are not depressed. The child of a depressed parent is 11 times more likely to develop it in his or her lifetime than a child with a non-depressed parent, which suggests a genetic link.
Environmental factors such as the experience of a trauma, loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship or any stressful situation can also trigger an episode of depression.
If left untreated, depression can have deadly consequences. According to the American Association of Suicidology, the risk of suicide in people with depression is 20 times that of the risk for the general population. Approximately two out of three individuals who commit suicide were depressed at the time of their deaths.
Individuals with depression who are at particularly high risk for suicide may exhibit the following symptoms: extreme hopelessness, a lack of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable, heightened anxiety and/or panic attacks, insomnia, talking about suicide or a previous history of attempts, and irritability and agitation.
Depression is a treatable condition. There are medical and psychological treatments, which are highly effective. Medical treatments usually involve the use of medication known collectively as antidepressants. These medications attempt to regulate the naturally produced chemicals in our brain (neurotransmitters), which are related to our mood. They include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), venlafaxine (Effexor) and duloxetine (Cymbalta)
There also are psychological treatments that are highly effective in the treatment of depression. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy teaches people how to restructure negative thought patterns which are associated with depressed mood, so they can view their environment and their interactions with others in a more positive and realistic fashion and learn how to prevent future episodes.
Interpersonal Therapy focuses on an individual’s troubled relationships that may be causing his or her depression or making it worse. For some, the combination of medication and psychotherapy is especially effective at treating depression and reducing the chances of a relapse
For more information about depression and its treatment, call the Department of Behavioral Health at Kenner Army Health Clinic at (804) 734-9623 or 734-9143, Military One Source at 1-800-342-9647, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
Martin Leibman, Ph.D., Department of Behavioral Health