It’s normal to experience sadness or grief after trauma, a tragic experience, or a loss. Feeling sad is not the same thing as having depression, however. Major depression is a serious medical illness that can affect your mood, your actions, your physical health, and your overall quality of life.
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States — it affects more than 17 million American adults each year. While depression is treatable, it’s not always easy to identify if you or someone you love experiences major depression.
Learn to identify the warning signs and symptoms of depression, and know when to seek help.There is strength in asking for help. Learn to differentiate between sadness and depression, and know when to talk to someone about depression. Click To Tweet
The difference between sadness and depression
Feeling sad or upset is normal. Sadness is something that everyone experiences in life. However, constant feelings of intense sadness shouldn’t be dismissed as a normal part of life.
The main difference between sadness and depression is that depression tends to persist. People with depression also have feelings of self-loathing, emptiness, or disinterest. Depression can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks.
The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a major depressive episode as,
“A period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.”
Major depression can interfere with daily life, and it isn’t something that people can simply “get over” or “shake off”. Depression is treatable, but it often requires treatment from a medical professional.
Who is at risk for major depression?
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, women are more likely to experience a major depressive episode than men. Adults between the ages 18 and 25 were the most likely to experience a major depressive episode. Major depressive episodes were most prevalent among adults reporting two or more races.
Some people are more likely than others to develop depression after a tragic experience, such as the loss of a loved one. Others may have major depressive episodes without a single identifiable cause.
Several factors contribute to a person’s risk for major depression.
- Brain biochemistry can affect risk for depression as well as the symptoms of depression.
- Depression can run in families. If a relative experiences major depression, you are more likely to have depression at some point in your life.
- Life events — losing a job, ending a relationship, the death of a loved one, financial loss, etc. — can lead to depression.
- Environmental factors, such as neglect, abuse, violence, or poverty, may influence whether a person develops depression.
- Substance abuse increases the risk for a person to experience major depression. Drug and alcohol misuse can worsen the symptoms of depression.
- People with low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy are more likely to experience major depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression
Common warning signs and symptoms of major depression include:
- Intense sadness and feelings of emptiness
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or making decisions
- Disinterest in favorite hobbies and activities
- Sleep problems — difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite — eating more or less than usual
- Constantly feeling tired, fatigued, or lethargic
- Body aches, muscle pain, or headaches
- Cramps or digestive problems
- Thoughts of death or suicide
These feelings can interfere with daily life, and they can last a long time. Symptoms must typically last for two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.
This doesn’t mean that you have to wait two weeks to seek help, however.
Getting help for major depression
A 2014 study from the National Center for Health statistics found that only one-third of people with major depression seek treatment from a mental health professional.
The stigma of mental health, denial that you have depression, not knowing the signs and symptoms of depression, not wanting to ask for help, or assuming the symptoms of depression are a normal part of life can prevent people from getting the care that they need.
There is strength in asking for help. Major depression is treatable; the first step is identifying that you have depression.
You can screen for depression. Screenings help detect health problems early. Health issues are the most treatable in the early stages. The sooner you identify a health problem, whether it is major depression or a cancer, the easier it is to treat.
Talk to the mental health professionals at NWA Psychiatry for more information about major depression and depression screening.