There is no test or X-ray that can be administered to diagnose clinical depression. Rather, there is a set of diagnostic criteria which indicates what symptoms must be present (and for how long), as well as symptoms, disorders and conditions that must not be present, in order to qualify for a particular diagnosis. Depression is not confined to a specific part of the body, but rather impacts the total person – body, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a given year, 18.8 million American adults (9.5 percent of the adult population) will suffer from a depressive illness.
“While diagnosing depression is not an exact science, that doesn’t mean depression should be taken less seriously than other illnesses,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “People who suffer from depression need care, support and empathy from family and friends just like someone suffering from a physical illness.”
“Why Don’t You Just Snap Out of It?”
Depression and other mental illnesses in general can be very difficult to understand for those who have never experienced them. People with depression are often viewed or judged as being weak. “Why can’t you just snap out of it or take better care of yourself?” is a common question faced by those with depression. Because of this judgment and stigma, people who suffer from depression are often afraid and fear rejection, so they do not let anyone know what is going on or how they feel. This can make their depression worse.
Clinical depression is not just a bad mood or a bad day; it is more than the normal ups and downs. It is a serious health problem that affects the whole body. Depression often interferes with normal functioning and causes pain and suffering not only to those who have the disorder, but also to those who care about them. Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities
- Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Restlessness or irritability
- Inability to sleep or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What Causes Depression?
The exact cause of depression is not clear. Many factors can contribute to or cause depression. We know depression can run in families. Changes in brain chemistry and living through painful and difficult life events can cause depression. Sometimes depression is caused by certain medications people take for cancer, arthritis, heart problems and high blood pressure. Being diagnosed with a serious or chronic disease can cause depression. And some illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke and hormonal problems can cause depression.
Left untreated, depression can last for months or years. The most serious and tragic consequence of clinical depression is suicide. While many of us will never fully understand why or how someone can commit suicide, for some people, suicide is viewed as an alternative to living in such extreme and constant pain. Fortunately suicide can often be prevented by getting people the help they need.
Treatment Options for Depression
Today, it is widely recognized that depression is a mental health condition that can benefit from treatment. Early recognition and treatment seem to decrease the length and severity of depressive episodes for most people. The most common treatments for depression are anti-depressant medication, psychotherapy (talking with a trained counselor) or a combination of both. Doctors may need to try different medications to find the one(s) that helps the most. It may also take up to a few months on the medication before seeing a difference. It is important to have patience and stick with a recommended treatment plan.
Since depression can make an individual feel exhausted and helpless, he or she will likely need help from others to get connected to effective treatment resources. It is important to be supportive and patient. Let the person know that you care and are concerned. The most important thing you can do for someone going through depression is help them get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Resources for Getting Help
National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Information HelpLine
1-800-950-(NAMI) 6264, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. − 6 p.m., EST
NAMI provides general information and referral services as well as legal resource and support volunteers.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in crisis.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Associate Director of Health Promotion]