Depression is more than just feeling “blue.” It makes most people become introverted and withdrawn. They lose interest in the things that they have always enjoyed and they often prefer to be alone. People who struggle with depression often feel isolated and worthless. This in itself causes the person to feel even more worthless and to withdraw even further. Depression is not something that the person can just “snap out of.” It is a complex medical problem that can influence every aspect of life—vocational, relational, and physical.
Depression in Women
More women than men will seek help for symptoms of depression. Statistics suggest that women are more vulnerable to depression than men. Women will be diagnosed as suffering with Clinical Depression twice as many times as men (Depression, 1995). Women are particularly vulnerable after the birth of a baby. Treatment by a sympathetic physician and a supportive family system will go a long way in helping the new mother to recover.
Depression in Men
Depression in men is usually masked by alcohol, drugs, or working long hours. Men who struggle with depression will typically have a higher rate of feeling irritable, angry and discouraged compared to non-depressed men. Men are less likely than women to admit that they struggle with symptoms of depression, and family doctors are less likely to suspect it in their male patients. This can make it harder to recognize depression in men. The rate of completed suicide in men is four times that of women, though more women attempt it (CAMH, 2005). Left untreated, male depression has been shown to be related to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease for which men suffer a higher death rate. This is in contrast to their female counterparts who also struggle with depression (Archives of Internal Medicine, 2000).
Depression in Older Adults
Some people have the mistaken idea that it is normal for older adults to feel depressed. When the older adult goes to their family physician, the symptoms of depression are usually physical as they tend to hold back on describing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and lack of interest in activities that were once pleasurable. Although aging often consists of loss, physical health decline, grief and increased dependence on others, the quality of the older person’s life can be significantly improved with talking therapy. Talking therapy can help the older person return to a happier, more fulfilling life (J. of the American Medical Association, 1997).
Depression in Children
It has only been in the past twenty years that depression in children has been taken seriously in the research (NIMH, 2000). A child who is depressed may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that the parent may die. Older children may sulk, underachieve at school, use drugs and/or alcohol, be negative or grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Because normal behaviours vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child is just going through a temporary “phase” or has depression. A visit to the family doctor is the first step in ruling out physical causes for the child’s behavioural difficulties.
What Causes Depression?
Depression is never caused by just one thing. It is a complex mood disorder that can be triggered by a number of factors. Biological characteristics, life events, and/or personal experiences can contribute to someone experiencing the symptoms of depression. Some of many possible factors include:
- genetic inheritance
- job loss
- being neglected or abused as a child
- death or loss of a loved one
- physical illness
- a lot of stress without social support
- too many changes, too fast
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
A sad, despairing mood is present most days and lasts for more than two weeks. The symptoms impair the person’s performance at work, at school or in social relationships.
Other symptoms of depression may include:
- changes in appetite and weight
- sleep problems
- loss of interest in work, hobbies, people or sex
- withdrawal from family members and friends
- feeling useless, hopeless, excessively guilty, pessimistic or having low self-esteem
- agitation or feeling slowed down
- trouble concentrating, remembering and making decisions
- crying easily, or feeling like crying but not being able to
- thoughts of suicide (which should always be taken seriously)
A diagnosis by a professional is often the most important part in starting to feel better. The most commonly used treatments are pharmacotherapy (medications), education, and psychotherapy. These treatments may be used individually or in combination.
Self-help organizations, run by clients of the mental health system and their families, can be an important part of treatment and recovery for people with depression and their families.
How to Provide Support for Someone Struggling with Depression
- Learn as much as you can about depression.
- Encourage your loved one to get help in learning how to manage depression.
- Encourage your loved one to take it slow and work and live life at a reduced pace. If they were recovering from a heart attack, they would gradually return to work or household responsibilities.
- Gently suggest engaging in low-key outings or activities that were once pleasurable for them.
- Have a crisis plan. If your loved one becomes preoccupied with death, seek help. Call your doctor, or take him or her to the Emergency Department of your local hospital.
- Blehar MD, Oren DA. Gender differences in depression. Medscape Women’s Health, 1997;2:3. Revised from: Women’s increased vulnerability to mood disorders: Integrating psychobiology and epidemiology. Depression, 1995;3:3-12.
- CAMH, 2005. Adapted from Depressive Illness: A Guide for People with Depression and their Families © 2005, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
- Ferketick AK, Schwartzbaum JA, Frid DJ, & Moeschberger ML. Depression as an antecedent to heart disease among women and men in the NHANES I study. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2000; 160(9): 1261-8.
- Lebowitz BD, Pearson JL, Schneider LS, Reynolds CF, Alexopoulos GS, Bruce MI, Conwell Y, Katz IR, Meyers BS, Morrison MF, Mossey J, Niederehe G, & Parmelee P. Diagnosis and treatment of depression in late life: Consensus statement update. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1997; 278:1186-90.
- NIMH Publication No. 00-3561, printed 2000.