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Depression: A treatable disorder

Depression is a serious medical condition that involves the body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps and the way you feel about yourself.

Depression is a serious medical condition that involves the body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps and the way you feel about yourself.

A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years.

The good news is, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, with the appropriate treatment, 90 percent of people diagnosed with depression can get better.

Depressive disorders are common - they affect an estimated 9.5 percent of adult Americans in a given year, or about 20.9 million people. Although women are more likely than men to suffer depression, the disorder can affect anyone.

Common symptoms of depression include:

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  • Persistent sad or anxious feelings.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed.
  • Decreased energy and fatigue.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering and making decisions.
  • Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening or oversleeping.
  • Appetite and/or weight changes.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Restlessness, irritability.

While the symptoms of depression are daunting, you can take measures now to lower your depression risk. Take a look at your lifestyle. Are you choosing healthy behaviors? Eat a diet low in fat and calories and high in whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Exercise regularly and reduce your stress levels. Avoid substances like tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
There are also components that contribute to depression that you cannot change. Age increases your risk for depression. Accompanying diseases such as stroke, heart attack, Parkinson's disease and hormonal disorders may increase your risk. For females, hormonal changes such as pregnancy, postpartum period, miscarriage, pre-menopause and menopausal periods can increase risk for depression.

The majority of people with depressive disorders improve when they receive appropriate treatment. The first step to getting treatment is a physical examination by a physician to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms. Next, the physician should conduct a diagnostic evaluation for depression or refer the patient to a mental health professional for this evaluation.

Treatment choice will depend on the patient's diagnosis, severity of symptoms, and preference. A variety of treatments, including medications and short-term therapies have proven effective for depression.

In general, severe depressive illnesses, particularly those that are recurrent, will require a combination of treatments for the best outcome. It usually takes a few weeks of treatment before the full therapeutic effect occurs. Once the person is feeling better, treatment may need to be continued for several months, and in some cases indefinitely, to prevent a relapse.

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