This post is an excerpt from my book Depression Solutions.
What is depression? The short answer is that depression is a “mood disturbance,” typically experienced as significantly lower than normal mood for an extended period of time. The complete answer gets a little more complicated.
In assessing whether you or a loved one is suffering from depression, it’s important to distinguish between normal and abnormal mood fluctuations. Everyone experiences some degree of depression throughout their lives — and, for that matter, euphoria, as well. We all have our “up” days and “down” days. But these mood swings are not necessarily indicative of a psychiatric condition that requires treatment.
For most of us, these extreme feelings are transient, and typically pass within a day or two. It’s when these feelings linger for weeks, months or even sometimes years, consuming your thoughts day in and day out, that the condition becomes clinically significant. For the person suffering from depression, these mood swings become so invasive that they interfere with daily life.
In a nutshell: The diagnosis of a Mood Disorder, such as Major Depression, is dependent on the intensity and duration of the mood disturbance, its accompanying symptoms, and the degree to which it interferes with a person’s functioning in both social and occupational settings.
Depression infiltrates every nook and cranny of your life, coloring your view of the world. And that color, too often, is gray. Receiving that big promotion you’ve worked so hard for may not feel much different from getting a good parking place at the mall. Conversely, losing that promotion may not feel much worse than burning your toast at breakfast. One of the least discussed aspects of severe clinical depression is that the deepest, darkest depression is not experienced as melancholy or sadness. The most severe — and most dangerous kind of depression is numbness, a complete absence of feeling and a loss of concern for yourself and for others. Depressed people ultimately stop expecting positive outcomes. And even when something good happens, they’re often unable to recognize it, and too numb to enjoy or appreciate it.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, you may feel that you’re alone. You’re not. Clinical depression plagues every population across the globe, and it takes a monumental toll in human suffering. Depression is so common that it has been referred to as the “common cold of mental illness.” But far more devastating than the common cold, depression impairs a person’s ability to function well which could last a lifetime, if left untreated.
To get a true picture of depression’s grasp on the population, consider these statistics…
- Roughly 20% of the population will experience some degree of depression during their lifetime.
- An estimated 5.8% of men and 9.5% of women worldwide will experience a depressive episode in any given year (World Health Organization).
- At any given time, nearly one in ten people is experiencing symptoms of major depression in the U.S. population (Compton & Kotwicki, 2007).
- 10 to 25 percent of women and 5 percent to 12 percent of men will become clinically depressed and experience a Major Depressive Episode, or develop Major Depression at some point in their lives (DSM-IV-TR).
Depression is currently estimated to cause the largest amount of non-fatal health burden worldwide, accounting for 12 percent of all total years lived with disability (Hassad 2006). In other words, more people are living with depression than any other non-fatal illness. We can live with depression, but we do not live with it unharmed.
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