Life is full of emotional ups and downs. But when the "down" times are long-lasting or interfere with your ability to function, you may be suffering from a common, serious illness -- depression.
Depression is described as a range of feelings from feeling sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps. Most of us feel this way at one time or another for short periods of time. A diagnosis of clinical depression or major depression is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life for an extended period of time. Even clinical depression has a range of symptoms that can be mild, moderate, or severe.
The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) found that many more women than men suffer from depression. Some of the NIMH findings are:
- One in four women will experience severe depression at some point in her life.
- Depression affects twice as many women as men, regardless of racial and ethnic background or income.
- Depression is the number one cause of disability in women.
- In general, married women experience depression more than single women do, and depression is common among young mothers who stay at home full-time with small children.
- Women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse are at much greater risk of depression.
- At least 90 percent of all cases of eating disorders occur in women, and there is a strong relationship between eating disorders and depression.
- Depression can put women at risk of suicide. While more men than women die from suicide, women attempt suicide about twice as often as men do.
- Regrettably, only about one-fifth of all women who suffer from depression seek help from a mental health professional.
The symptoms of depression and the range of the symptoms is different for every individual. Some women might have only a few symptoms, while others may have several. Some of the possible depression symptoms are:
- Feeling sad, anxious, or "empty"
- Feeling hopeless
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy
- Difficulty staying focused, remembering, or making decisions
- Sleeplessness, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping and not wanting to get up
- Lack of desire to eat and weight loss, or eating to "feel better" and weight gain
- Thoughts of hurting yourself
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Being easily annoyed, bothered, or angered
- Constant physical symptoms that do not get better with treatment, such as headaches, upset stomach, and pain that does not go away.
A licensed counselor can help you understand the symptoms with which you are struggling. Keep in mind that having some symptoms of depression does not mean that you are clinically depressed but you may still need help in dealing the symptoms. For example, it is not unusual for those who have lost a loved one to feel sad, helpless, and disinterested in regular activities. Similarly, living with the stress of potential layoffs, heavy workloads, or financial or family problems may cause irritability and "the blues." These feelings can be caused by the happenings of life. These feelings can increase in duration and intensity and affect your ability to deal with daily life; although, what seemed to be a temporary mood may have become a clinical illness. That is why if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, you should talk with a licensed counselor. The reason to work a licensed counselor is that their background and training includes education and professional standards set by the state in which they are licensed.
The good news is that for most women, treatment is highly successful. Depressive illnesses will make you feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless -- and you may want to give up. However, it is important to realize that these negative feelings are part of the depression and will fade as treatment begins to take effect.
Help is available and feeling better is possible.