If you or someone you care about has ever suffered from depression, you know Depression Is Real. But you
may have also heard that it's "just the blues" or worse a "made-up disease." Those kinds of statements obscure
the real facts about this debilitating and potentially deadly medical condition that affects some 15 million
Americans every year.
We think that's dangerous.
Let’s Talk Facts About Depression
What Is Depression?
Depression is a serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.
Depression has a variety of symptoms, but the most common are a deep feeling of sadness or a marked loss of
interest or pleasure in activities. Other symptoms include:
- Changes in appetite that result in weight losses or gains unrelated to dieting
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Restlessness or irritability
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide.
Depression is common. It affects nearly one in 10 adults each year—nearly twice as many women as men. It’s
also important to note that depression can strike at any time, but on average, first appears during the late teens
to mid- 20s. Depression is also common in older adults. Fortunately, depression is very treatable.
How Depression and Sadness Are Different
The death of a loved one, loss of a job, or the ending of a relationship are difficult experiences for a person to
endure. It is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such stressful situations.
Those experiencing trying times often might describe themselves as being “depressed.”
But sadness and depression are not the same. While feelings of sadness will lessen with time, the disorder of
depression can continue for months, even years. Patients who have experienced depression note marked
differences between normal sadness and the disabling weight of clinical depression.
Postpartum depression—an illness associated with the delivery of a child—is caused by changes in hormones
and can run in families. It is distinguished from “baby blues”—an extremely common reaction following
delivery—both by its duration and the debilitating effects of indifference the mother has about herself and her
children. About one in 10 new mothers experience some degree of postpartum depression; women with severe
premenstrual syndrome are more likely to suffer from it. Women with postpartum depression love their children
but may be convinced that they are not able to be good mothers.
Let’s Talk Facts About Depression
What Causes Depression?
Depression can affect anyone—even a person who appears to live in relatively ideal circumstances. But several
factors can play a role in the onset of depression:
Biochemistry. Abnormalities in two chemicals in the brain, serotonin and norepinephrine, might contribute to
symptoms of depression, including anxiety, irritability and fatigue. Other brain networks undoubtedly are
involved as well; scientists are actively seeking new knowledge in this area.
Genetics. Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70%
chance of having the illness sometime in life.
Personality. People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally
pessimistic appear to be vulnerable to depression.
Environmental factors. Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make people who are
already susceptible to depression all the more vulnerable to the illness. Also, a medical condition (e.g., a brain tumor or
vitamin deficiency) can cause depression, so it is important to be evaluated by a psychiatrist or other physician to rule
out general medical causes.
How Is Depression Treated?
For many people, depression cannot always be controlled for any length of time simply by exercise, changing
diet, or taking a vacation. It is, however, among the most treatable of mental disorders: between 80% and 90%
of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from
Before a specific treatment is recommended, a psychiatrist should conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation,
consisting of an interview and possibly a physical examination. The purpose of the evaluation is to reveal
specific symptoms, medical and family history, cultural settings and environmental factors to arrive at a proper
diagnosis and to determine the best treatment.
Magnesium is a natural tranquilizer and might help to relieve the symptoms of depression by increasing the
available supply of serotonin, a substance in the brain believed to influence mood.