Depression affects an estimated 15 million American adults — many of whom suffer in silence. “Everyone has a down day now and then, but if a depressed mood lasts for at least two weeks and is accompanied by a number of other symptoms, you may have the most common form of clinical depression, called major depression,” explains Cathy Frank, M.D., a psychiatrist with Henry Ford Health.
Up to one in 10 adults suffer from major depression. Here, Dr. Frank responds to frequently asked questions about this common condition:
Q: Who is at risk of developing depression?
A: Depression can strike anyone, but women are twice as likely as men to be clinically depressed. In fact, one out of every five women will suffer from major depression during her lifetime. While the most common age of onset is in the late 20s and early 30s, depression can affect children, adolescents and even seniors. (Aging often comes with medical conditions and other stressors that are linked to depression.) People who have a family history of depression and those who suffer from anxiety, substance abuse or chronic pain are at increased risk.
Q: What does depression look like?
A: There are two key features of clinical depression:
- A depressed mood
- Loss of pleasure or interest in things or activities you usually enjoy
You can be clinically depressed if you no longer take pleasure in things and activities you used to enjoy — even without feeling depressed. Similarly, you can be clinically depressed if you feel depressed — even if you’re still participating in daily activities.
- Other signs and symptoms include:
- Sleep disturbance (for example, sleeping too much or suffering from insomnia)
- Changes in appetite or significant weight loss or weight gain
- Low energy or fatigue (a subgroup of people who are depressed may feel more energetic)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low self-esteem
Q: Is there a connection between physical illness and depression?
A: Yes — and it can go both ways. A physical illness, such as cancer, thyroid disease, and chronic pain can precipitate depression. Depression itself can make you feel physically ill with symptoms ranging from upset stomach to sleep problems or just a general feeling of being unwell. When you’re depressed, everything may hurt. Men in particular are more likely to report physical symptoms of depression rather than emotional or mental effects.
Q: What should I do if I think I’m depressed?
A: Talk to your primary care provider (PCP). PCPs are the main providers of mental health care in the United States, particularly for mild cases of depression. Plus, your PCP knows your history and can make sure there isn’t a medical cause behind your depression. Maybe you’re taking a medication with a mental health side effect or you’re suffering from insomnia — both of which may be resolved with a new prescription. If your PCP determines you have a complicated form of mental illness, he or she will refer you to a specialist.
Q: How common is suicide among people who are clinically depressed?
A: Suicide results in over 40,000 deaths a year in the United States. Although depression is one cause of suicide, there are many others, including substance abuse, bipolar disorder and severe reaction to stress. If you’re struggling with difficult emotions, it’s important to seek help before feelings of despair become thoughts about ending your life. Need help now? Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE.
Q: Is medication the only way to improve symptoms of depression?
A: Not everyone who has major depression needs medication. In fact, doctors often treat mild forms of depression with psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Self-help books, meditation, exercise and other lifestyle changes may help resolve some symptoms of depression, particularly those triggered by a new stressor (for example, loss of a loved one, loss of a job or a newly diagnosed illness). However, when major depression becomes moderate or severe, medication may be the most effective treatment option. Treatment is always individualized to your needs.
It’s normal to suffer from occasional down days, especially during times of loss, grief or heartache. But when feelings of depression interfere with your ability to fully function — it’s important to get help.
“Depression is a medical illness, not a human failing — and it is a very treatable illness,” says Dr. Frank. “Letting someone know how you’re feeling can be the first step toward relief.”
If you’ve had thoughts about ending your life, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Cathy Frank is a clinical psychiatrist and is the Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Services at Henry Ford Health. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Troy.