Just the Blues or Depression?

Millions have mental health issues

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

You don't have the energy for much of anything - work or fun.

Nothing seems exciting.

Food either doesn't interest you or offers only a few minutes of comfort.

You feel this emotional pain, this dread, this uneasiness that affects everything in your life.

All you really want to do is watch TV, be on the computer or sleep - anything to distract you from misery you feel. But nothing seems to bring lasting relief.

You may be depressed.

What is depression?

In its booklet on depression, the National Institute of Mental Health explains, "Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad, but these feelings usually pass within a couple of days.

When a person has depression, it interferes with his or her daily life and routine, such as going to work or school, taking care of children, and relationships with family and friends."

What are the symptoms of depression?

How depression feels to you will be different from how someone else experiences it. Depression lingers for weeks or months and causes ongoing:

  • Sadness, anxiety (nervousness) or empty feelings
  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness,
  • Irritability or restlessness (feeling fidgety)
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies you usually enjoy, including sex
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • Trouble paying attention, concentrating, remembering things and making decisions
  • Sleep problems - hard time going to sleep, staying asleep (insomnia) or sleeping all the time
  • Appetite changes - overeating or eating very little; weight gain or weight loss
  • Thoughts of suicide or attempting suicide
  • Physical aches and pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems

Billions suffer

Depression is a serious medical condition that impacts the lives of millions of people here in the United States and around the world. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

  • More than 14 million Americans suffered from depression in 2008, the last year it conducted a survey
  • Women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime
  • Average age of first depressive episode - 32 years of age

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, more people around the world will suffer from depression than any other medical problem, making it the largest economic and social health burden on the planet.

What causes depression?

The exact cause of depression is not known, but a number of factors can lead to depression, including one or more of the following:

  • Brain chemicals (serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine) that are out of balance
  • Genetics - it's now known that depression runs in families
  • Physical body changes -  inflammation, infection, illness or immune system problems
  • Social isolation - coping with stress is difficult without the support of friends and family
  • Traumatic events and losses

How is depression treated?

The good news is that depression is highly treatable and new therapies are continually being discovered to overcome this illness.

Treating mild and moderate depression usually involves one or a combination of the following:

  • Medication - Today's classes of antidepressants typically work to balance brain chemistry.
  • Psychotherapy -Talking with a professional can help identify and resolve emotional conflicts.
  • Supplements - Recent studies have shown that Omega-3 essential fatty acids and SAMe may help.
  • Exercise - Exercise boosts brain chemicals that can elevate mood.

When and how to get help

If your blues are interfering with your everyday life and last for weeks or months, you're likely suffering from depression. It's a serious medical condition that shouldn't be ignored.

Talk with your doctor about how you're feeling to learn what treatments may be appropriate for you.

Review Date: 
April 5, 2011