Depression affects an estimated 300 million people of all ages worldwide. It is a common, and serious, mood disorder that alters how individuals think, feel, and behave. Unlike being unhappy, depression is an intense feeling of deep sadness and despair that can last for days, weeks, or even months. The symptoms can include feelings of hopelessness, rejection, poor concentration, lack of energy, sleep problems, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. Depression is not a choice; it is an illness.
Depression is a serious medical condition that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, affects approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population over age 12. Although there are effective treatments, less than 50 percent of those living with depression worldwide seek professional help. Individuals may be reluctant to get help for a variety of reasons, — maybe they think they can overcome depression on their own, or they believe that no one will understand how they feel.
There are a lot of myths surrounding depression, the two most common being that depression is triggered by a negative life event, and that people who are depressed should find something that makes them happy so they can “snap out of it." Neither misconceptions accurately portrays the condition, and both feed into its stigmatization.
5 Things to Know About Depression
1. It can affect anyone. Depression can affect people of any age, ethnicity, or social position, in any geographic location.
2. It is common. The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the second highest medical cause of disability by the year 2030, second only to HIV/AIDS.
3. It may not have a cause. The onset of depression may not be triggered by a specific event. Depression can occur at any time and any place.
4. It can't be fixed quickly. Some who suffer from depression attempt to alleviate their symptoms by self-medicating. They may turn to alcohol, drugs, sex, or other dangerous behaviors to help them cope with their thoughts and feelings but their attempt to find a fast fix can lead to a life of self-destruction.
5. It responds to treatment. In nearly 80 percent of cases, people who receive professional treatment for depression say it helped them feel better. Treatment may include a combination of medication, therapy, or alternative approaches.
5 Ways to Support Someone With Depression
1. Be patient. Depression is an illness that needs to be professionally treated. Healthy coping skills are learned and rehearsed, and that takes time.
2. Listen without judgment. Talk less and listen more. Allowing someone to speak their thoughts and feelings aloud can be extremely beneficial for them.
3. Focus on the present and take small steps. With depression, looking at the big picture can be overwhelming. That’s why it’s good to live in the present, and take one day at a time.
4. Get involved and do something. Contact the person, make a plan, and get moving — go to the mall, watch a movie, cook a nice dinner, or just go to the park for a walk. When people are depressed, they tend to isolate themselves from others. A great way to keep connected is by engaging in a fun or relaxing activity.
5. Learn more about depression. Knowledge is power. The more we know, the more we can proactively change the perception of depression.
Depression is real and it's a serious condition. No one chooses to have it, just like no one chooses to be ill in any other way. Odds are that most of us know someone — a friend or family member — whose life has been affected by depression.
The good news, though, is depression is treatable, and people who suffer from it can live happy and productive lives. Treatment is the key to learning to live with depression. As a society, it’s time we destigmatize the condition, and understand it for what it is — an illness that no one chooses to have.
Al-Harbi, K. S. (2012). Treatment-resistant depression: therapeutic trends, challenges, and future directions. Patient Prefer Adherence, 6, 369-388.
Timonen, M., & Liukkonen, T. (2008). Management of depression in adults. Bmj, 336(7641), 435-439.
World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/