Despite the stigmas and misunderstandings associated with depression, it’s a real and treatable illness with life-threatening consequences if ignored. It’s also very common: Nearly 16 million Americans struggle with depression each year. Still, sufferers often have difficulty explaining their feelings or how their everyday lives are impacted by the disorder.
In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s take a closer look at five facts that everyone should know about depression.
Five Important Facts About Depression
When it comes to depression, it’s important to remember that:
- It’s more than standard sadness: Sadness is a temporary state, often brought on by specific circumstances, while depression is a chronic illness that may not have a clear cause. In fact, you may not even feel sad when you’re depressed. Instead, you might be disengaged, angry, anxious, irritable, hopeless, or frustrated. Some signs that sadness has turned into depression include changes in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns; physical symptoms such as body aches or digestive issues; loss of interest in enjoyable activities; and trouble with concentration or memory.
- There’s not always a “good” reason for it: While depression may be linked to a difficult life event, like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one, there’s not always a reason for these negative feelings. Possible causes are still being studied, but it is most likely due to a combination of factors, including a genetic predisposition towards the condition, a history of other mental health issues, and/or environmental triggers.
- It’s linked to brain chemistry imbalances, hormone fluctuations, and seasonal changes: Although there may not be an identifiable reason for depression, there is often a clear trigger. Research suggests that it’s linked to an imbalance (too much or too little) in the neurotransmitters that influence mood regulation, including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It may also be caused by a change in hormone production or function during pregnancy, menstruation, menopause, or thyroid issues, for instance. Seasonal affective disorder, prompted by a change in seasons, is also a form of depression.
- It is treatable: Through therapy, medications, lifestyle changes, or a combination of the three, depression can be treated and managed. Therapeutic approaches used to treat depression include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, behavioral activation, and more. For medication, it may take a trial-and-error approach to find an option that reduces your symptoms with minimal side effects. Additionally, lifestyle changes related to your diet, exercise routine, and stress management can have a noticeable impact on depression. Ultimately, your treatment plan should be tailored for your specific symptoms and general health.
- It’s a common cause of suicide: Per the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people who commit suicide are suffering from a mental illness, including undiagnosed, untreated, or under-treated depression. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.