We are all familiar with “down days,” “the blues,” and other expressions that describe brief experiences of sadness and pessimism. These emotional let downs are part of the fabric of human experience as we face disappointments in life and are usually brief in duration. We have become accustomed to saying we are “depressed” at such times.
But these occasions should not be confused with clinical or major depression, a common and often intense mood disorder.
Depression can be a profoundly painful and even disabling experience. Since an episode of depression can range from mild to severe, the experience will more or less deprive us of our sense of well-being, creativity, and resilience. We can feel just as if we have a physical illness: mentally dull, unable to enjoy life, low energy, disturbed appetite and sleep, and an understandable tendency to withdraw from our world. Physical aches and pains are common for some. Depression can spiral into deep despair in some cases, resulting in hopelessness and thoughts of dying, or even suicide.
Depression is often found in families, suggesting a strong genetic basis. It is believed that a stressor, or multiple stressors, often arising from interpersonal relationships, can trigger the earliest episodes of depression. However, the resulting changes in the brain can lead to future episodes being triggered more easily by less readily identifiable stressors or changes in the individual.
Individuals with recurrent depression unintentionally surrender their sense of hope in overcoming depression by identifying with the depression. They have the felt experience of being the depression. For them, this often signifies some weakness of character, something unchanging- because of this sense of identification. Depression ceases to be a painful but transient event, but a felt sense of self.
Current treatments for depression are more commonly available and effective than at any time in the past:
We know that the most robust, effective treatment strategies for depression involve the concurrent use of both antidepressant medication and targeted psychotherapy. Together they promote a restoration of biological function and psychological well-being. Individuals can have a renewed sense of energy, enjoyment, and balance and live their lives more fully.
If you or someone you know is afflicted with major depression, please seek psychiatric evaluation and the support of an experienced psychotherapist. Major depression is a major cause of disability and misery- but something can be done to relieve depression!
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