Why Am I so Blue?

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Author: 
Lola O., NWHN Intern
Date: 
Tue, March 30, 2010

Life is full of emotional ups and downs.  Hopefully, with the support of friends and family the down times can be brief moments in time. However, when the "down" times are long lasting or interfere with an individual's ability to function, that person may be suffering from a common, but serious psychological problem known as depression.
   
Depression is a serious and pervasive mood disorder. It causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. Depression can be mild to moderate with symptoms of apathy, (absence of interest or concern to emotional, social, or physical life) little appetite, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem, and low-grade fatigue. Or it can be major depression with symptoms of depressed mood most of the day, diminished interest in daily activities, weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia (oversleeping), fatigue, feelings of guilt almost daily, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

Research indicates that in the United States more than 17 million people experience depression each year, and nearly two thirds do not get the help they need. Proper treatment would alleviate the symptoms in over 80 percent of the cases. Yet, because depression is often unrecognized, depressed individuals often continue to suffer needlessly.

Women are almost twice as likely as men to experience depression. Before adolescence, the rate of depression is about the same in girls and boys. However, with the onset of puberty, a girl's risk of developing depression increases dramatically to twice that of boys. Experts believe that the increased chance of depression in women may be related to changes in hormone levels that occur throughout a woman's life. These changes are evident during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause as well as after giving birth, having a hysterectomy, or experiencing a miscarriage. In addition, the hormone fluctuations that occur with each month's menstrual cycle probably contribute to premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD -- a severe syndrome marked especially by depression, anxiety, cyclical mood shifts, and lethargy. Research continues to explore how this psychological problem affects women. At the same time, it is important for women to increase their awareness of what is already known about depression, so that they seek early and appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of depression in women include:

•    persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
•    loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
•    restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
•    feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
•    sleeping too much or too little, early-morning awakening
•    appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
•    decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down"
•    thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
•    difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
•    persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

Numerous depression treatments are available. Medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) are very effective for most people. In some cases, a primary care doctor can prescribe medications to relieve depression symptoms. However, many people need to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychiatrist). Many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychologist or other mental health counselor. Usually the most effective treatment for depression is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Depression generally isn't an illness that you can treat on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will help. In addition to professional treatment, follow these self-care steps:

•    Stick to your treatment plan. Don't skip psychotherapy sessions or appointments, even if you don't feel like going. Even if you're feeling well, resist any temptation to skip your medications. If you stop, depression symptoms may come back, and you could also experience withdrawal-like symptoms.
•    Learn about depression. Education about your condition can empower you and motivate you to stick to your treatment plan.
•    Pay attention to warning signs. Work with your doctor or therapist to learn what might trigger your depression symptoms. Make a plan so that you know what to do if your symptoms get worse. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in symptoms or how you feel. Ask family members or friends to help watch for warning signs.
•    Get exercise. Physical activity reduces depression symptoms. Consider walking, jogging, swimming, gardening or taking up another activity you enjoy.
•    Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. It may seem like alcohol or drugs lessen depression symptoms, but in the long run they generally worsen symptoms and make depression harder to treat.
•    Get plenty of sleep. Sleeping well is especially important when you're depressed. If you're having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about what you can do.

 

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Feeling down from time to time is a normal part of life. But when emptiness and despair take hold and won't go away, it may be depression. More than just the temporary "blues," the lows of depression make it tough to function and enjoy life like you once did. Hobbies and friends don’t interest you like they used to; you’re exhausted all the time; and just getting through the day can be overwhelming. When you’re depressed, things may feel hopeless, but with help and support you can get better. But first, you need to understand depression. Learning about depression—including its signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment—is the first step to overcoming the problem.
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