“You handle depression in much the same way you handle a tiger. If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling.”  — Dr. R.W. Shepherd

Some of you may recall seeing a pharmaceutical commercial asking, “Where does depression hurt?” and “Who does depression hurt?”

The answers on the commercial were “Everywhere” and “Everyone,” respectively.

One of the most challenging aspects of depression is in its diagnosis, especially when symptoms are mild. These mild to moderate symptoms may be overlooked by even the most seasoned of physicians, as well as the patient themselves. Often the symptoms of depression can be subtle and be misconstrued for “just growing old,” “life’s stresses,” and “too busy to enjoy life.”

The exact cause of depression is still uncertain, but there are several observed factors that may play a role. We do know that depression is a medical condition that may result from difficulty in adaptation to environmental and social stresses, other medical or psychiatric illnesses, internal biochemical or neurotransmitter disturbances, heredity, certain medications, substance abuse or poor sleep.

It is estimated that in the United States over 20 million people suffer from some form of depression. It can and has affected people of all age groups, sexes, and races.

Depression can manifest itself in a variety of psychological and physical symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of depression include sadness, depressed mood most of the day, lack of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable, loss of energy, easy fatigue, poor sleep, increased sleep, irritability, significant change in weight, reduced concentration, increased forgetfulness, reduced social interaction, abusing substances such as alcohol and drugs, feelings of hopelessness, poor performance, thoughts of suicide, or persistent and vague headaches, generalized body aches, digestive complaints or other physical complaints not relieved by treatments.

There are many forms of depression, and all can vary in intensity of symptoms. Some of the most common forms include Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Dysthymic Disorder — a milder form of MDD, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Postpartum Depression and Atypical Depression. There are still many other categories of depression, but the key here is in identifying depression and knowing when to seek help.

Once depression is diagnosed, the underlying cause for depression should be sought. A combination of behavioral therapy or counseling, lifestyle changes, management of contributing medical or psychiatric problems, and often pharmaceuticals may be needed to effectively treat depression. Alternative therapies may be effective in treating some forms of depression and may even help to prevent it.

A number of age-specific screening tools are available that your doctor may use to help diagnose depression.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, it is important that medical or psychiatric help is sought immediately. In addition to local emergency rooms, physicians, and specialized mental health counselors, there are a number of suicide and crisis hotlines available to help. The number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-SUICIDE and the Crisis Line is 1-800-273-TALK.

This article was written for general information purposes and is not meant to substitute the personalized care of your doctor. Please check with your doctor to see which therapies or preventative measures are available and if they are right for you prior to making any significant changes to your medical regimen or lifestyle.

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