Defining Depression

Every person at some point in life has feelings of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness. For many, these feelings pass within a matter of days or weeks. But for some, these feelings don't pass. They are a symptom of a mental disorder known as depression. 

A depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way you eat, sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think.  Depression is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot simply "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. 

Although the types of depression vary, there are three common types of depressive illnesses: 

  • Major depression, which interferes with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. This type of disabling depression may occur as a single episode of depression, or more commonly, it occurs several times in a lifetime. 
  • Dysthymia is a  long-term condition of chronic symptoms that do not disable you, but keep you from functioning well or from feeling good. People with dysthymia may also have major depressive episodes. 
  • Bipolar disorder, also know as manic-depressive illness, is marked by cycling mood changes from severe highs (the mania stage of the illness) to extreme lows (the depressive stage of the illness). These mood swings can be dramatic and rapid, but are most often gradual.

In the depressed cycle, you may have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder.  In the manic cycle, you may be overactive, over talkative, and have a great deal of energy. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior. Mania, left untreated, may worsen to a psychotic state. This illness occurs less often than other types of depressive illnesses.

If you feel you or someone you care about may be suffering from depression, it is important that you contact your doctor or a mental health professional. 

The National Institute of Mental Health provides indepth information about many different aspects of depression.

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