“Depression” is commonly used to describe a mood or emotion, and, more technically, a symptom of a syndrome or psychological disorder. The joyless sadness of depression hardly needs description, so common is its part in the human condition. Only its duration separates the mood from the symptom. When a feeling of depression is present for most of the day, and continues to be experienced for weeks, it is considered a symptom of a depressive disorder. While most experience depression at some point of their lives some are more prone to its attacks.
Some risk factors include:
Gender – Depression is twice as common among women.
Family psychiatric history – Depression is more likely with a family history of depression, suicide, or alcoholism.
Personal psychiatric history – A prior history of depression increases the risk of future episodes, as does a history of trauma, past or present alcohol abuse or substance abuse. A number of personality disorders predispose individuals to depressions.
Loneliness and isolation – Loneliness increases the risk of depression, and once depressed, isolation all-too-often becomes a natural inclination that only perpetuates the depression.
Medical condition – Serious or chronic illnesses (e.g., cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, dementia) as well as hormonal problems (e.g., hypothyroidism) increase the chances of depression. Related to this, some medications increase the risk as a side effect.
Stress – Stress is a deceptively complex topic, yet one that can be simplified for the practical purposes of this discussion. Stress is an external demand or pressure on the “system.” Stress is the universal risk factor, complication factor, and impediment to cure. I have yet to hear of a physical disease or psychological disorder where stress is not named as a primary culprit.
Financial strain – Poverty is, itself, a type of stress that induces worry, but it should be singled out for discussion because of what can be considered a multiplier effect: without sufficient finances, otherwise minor annoyances become more significant inconveniences (e.g., a bill payment coming due), or even life threatening issues (e.g., cold weather, hunger).
Personality traits – Certain personality traits, such as pessimism and low self-esteem increase the risks of depression.
Social support– The relationship between social support and depression is stronger than the relationship between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. The lack of available supportive friends and family makes us vulnerable to depression and hampers recovery. Relationships that provide “negative support” (e.g., tension, conflict, and criticism) are especially important to take note of, because the impact of one negative relationship has 25 times the magnitude of just one positive relationship.
A diagnosis of depression is made based on the presence of a number of symptoms from a list including:
• Loss of energy, or feeling fatigued.
• Disrupted sleep pattern (either too much, or too little).
• Disrupted ability to concentrate or make decisions.
• Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
• Preoccupying thoughts about death.
• Physical lethargy or agitation.
• A change in weight by more than 5%.
• Anhedonic depletion (loss of pleasure from, or interest in things that used to bring joy).
It is important to recognize that one need not exhibit all these symptoms for a diagnosis. It is often wrongly assumed that to have a diagnosis of depression, one must count a depressed mood among their distressing symptoms. Many individuals, however, exhibit anhedonia, but not a sad, depressed mood, and it is not unusual for them to fail to recognize they have a condition requiring help. If you think you may be suffering or experiencing the above mentioned symptoms contact me for consultation.