Everyone feels sad from time to time, but these feelings usually pass rather quickly. Someone with major depression experiences extreme sadness, despair or loss of ability to experience pleasure, and these symptoms last more than several weeks and can persist for months or even years. People who are suffering from major depression often feel hopeless and find that symptoms can interfere with normal, everyday activities. Some may even have thoughts of death or suicide. 

If you are feeling depressed, you are not alone. Major depression occurs in people of all genders, ages, backgrounds and nationalities. It can be related to life stresses or come "out of the blue." In any given year, it affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, age 18 and older. Over the course of a lifetime, 16% of the population will experience at least one episode of major depression. This illness is one of the most pressing public health problems, as it is the leading cause of disability in North America. It is projected to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020. 

A less known and poorly studied feature of major depression is that depressed individuals have an increased risk of developing certain serious medical illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, dementia and osteoporosis. 

Recognizing Symptoms of Depression

People with major depression may experience some, but not necessarily all, of these symptoms:
  • An overwhelming sense of sadness or loss of interest
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Increases or decreases in appetite or weight
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability or restelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What Causes Depression?

Depression can be casued by a variety of factors; genetics, chemical inbalances, psychological, social, and environmental factors are all contributors to depression.  Whatever the cause of depression, it's important to realize that it is a medical illness. Depression is not your fault, nor is it a sign of weakness; it is a medical illness that should be treated. 

Treatments for Depression

The earlier that treatment begins, the more effective it generally is. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is recommended for some individuals, whereas antidepressants may be prescribed for others. In many cases, therapy and medication are used jointly. A mental health professional can make recommendations about an individualized course of treatment for your depression. 

Additional sources of useful information about depression, as well as supports for depressed individuals are listed below:

NIMH: Depression Easy to Read

NIMH: Free Booklets on Depression

Psych Central: Research on Depression

NAMI: Major Depression Fact Sheet

NAMI: Resources

DBS Alliance: Support Group Locator

San Francisco Bay Area Free & Low Cost Mental Health Resources