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Depression: Don't Let the "Blues" Get You Down.

In any given 1-year period, approximately 10% of the U.S. adult population, or about 20 million American adults, suffer from some form of depressive illness. Studies also show that 10 to 15 percent of all children and adolescents have some symptoms of depression. While the economic cost of this disorder is high, the cost in human suffering can not be measured.

Depressive illnesses often interfere with normal functioning and cause pain and suffering, not only to those who have the disorder, but to those who care about them. Serious, untreated depression can destroy family life as well as the life of the ill person.

Sure, everyone gets sad or a little blue now and then. But if you rarely feel joy, happiness, or excitement you may have a more serious problem. Doctors call this prolonged sadness "clinical depression." A depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood and thoughts. It may affect the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about others. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished or willed away. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even an entire lifetime. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.

Depressive disorders come in many different forms, just as the case with other illnesses such as cancer. The three most common types are Major Depression, dysthymia and bipolar disorder. Major Depression is marked by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy activities which were once pleasurable. A disabling episode of depression of this type may occur only once in a lifetime, but more commonly returns several times.

Dysthymia, a less severe type of depression, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that do not disable the sufferer, but keep one from functioning properly and feeling good.

Another type of depression, bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic-depressive illness), is not nearly as common as the other forms of depression. It is characterized by severe cycling mood swings: severe highs (mania) and depth-plunging lows (depression).

When you're manic: you feel high as a're on top of the world; thoughts go racing through your head; you're a non-stop party; you do wild and risky things (with driving, money, sex, drugs, etc); you are so up you don't even need sleep. However, this mania, left untreated, may worsen to a psychotic state and could become a life-threatening illness.

When you're depressed: you cry a lot and it doesn't go away; you feel guilty for no reason; life seems meaningless and empty; it's hard to make up your mind; you feel worthless; you forget lots of things and it's hard to concentrate; you feel restless and tired most of the time; you think about death or feel like you're dying.

Not everyone who is depressed experiences every one of these symptoms. And the severity of the symptoms can vary with the individual and over a period of time. Some of the more common symptoms include: an "empty" feeling (ongoing sadness), lack of energy, pessimism, difficulty in concentration and decision making, insomnia, appetite loss or overeating, being irritable, crying too often or too much, feeling worthless or hopeless, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Having these feelings doesn't mean that a person is a means they are ill and in need of treatment. There are a number of medical treatments now available and they do work--usually within a matter of weeks. There is no single cause of depression, but remember, it is a real medical illness and it IS treatable.

Most people with depression can be helped with psychotherapy, medicine or a combination of the two. Psychotherapy means talking about your feelings with a trained professional who can help you change the relationships, thoughts, or behaviors that contribute to depression.

Medication has recently been developed that effectively treats severe and disabling depression. Anti-depressant medications are not "uppers" and are not addictive. Sometimes, however, several types may have to be tried before you and your doctor find the one that works best. As with most medical problems, there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution for depression.

The most important thing to remember--you are not alone! When problems seem too big and you're feeling low for too long, you CAN find help, it is affordable, and you CAN get better.

About the Author
Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently Vice President of Elfin Enterprises, Inc. an Internet business providing valuable information and resources on a number of timely topics.

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