MANAGING CHRONIC ILLNESS: DEPRESSION

Depression is an illness that causes a person to feel sad and hopeless for much of the time. It is different from normal feelings of sadness, grief, or low energy. Often those suffering from depression have both emotional and physical symptoms.

Emotional Symptoms of Depression

Depression can cause different symptoms in different people, and they may be hard to notice at first. For example, a child may seem grouchy and irritable. An older adult may be forgetful. If you think a loved one is depressed, learn more about what symptoms to look for, and urge the person to get help if needed. It is important to recognize the early warning signs of depression so that you can get treatment. Read through the following "emotional" symptoms of depression. Those suffering from depression:

  • Feel sad, tearful or hopeless
  • Lose interest in things enjoyed in the past or cannot feel pleasure from most daily activities
  • Think and speak more slowly than normal
  • Cannot concentrate, remember, or make decisions
  • Think about death and/or suicide frequently
  • Feel guilty or worthless
  • Feel irritable, anxious, tense or worried, without an obvious reason
  • Feel restless and unable to sit still
  • Find that moving takes great effort
  • Blame themselves or others for their depression
  • Spend a great deal of time neither moving nor speaking

Physical Symptoms of Depression

People who suffer from depression often feel pain and experience physical symptoms. These symptoms are not in the head of the depressed person. Physical symptoms, often overlooked by physicians, include:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain and/or palpitations
  • Back pain
  • Muscle aches and/or joint pain
  • A feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, stomachaches, nausea
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Sleeping problems: either sleeping too much or not enough
  • Increase in, or loss of appetite, which often results in weight gain or weight loss

Important Facts About Depression

  • Depression is a disease. It's not being lazy, and you can't "just get over it."
  • Depression is very common and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
  • The best thing you can do for someone with depression is to help him or her get treatment. Treatment works, and there are many choices in treatment. Many types of health practitioners can treat depression.
  • Don't ignore talk about suicide. Talk to a doctor, or call 911 or emergency help if needed.
  • Depression can be caused by another medical problem. Treating the problem may stop the depression.
  • Most people who are depressed get better with medicine, counseling, or a combination of the two. Some people with depression may need to be hospitalized.
  • Depression affects men and women of all ages and has often been shown to run in families.
  • A person can have one or many episodes of depression in a lifetime. Each episode of depression makes a person more likely to have another episode of depression.
  • Many people will have depression at some point in their lives. Women have depression twice as often as men. But men are more likely to commit suicide because of depression.
  • Separated or divorced people, especially men, are more likely than married people to become depressed.
  • People who have a serious illness are more likely to have depression.

Causes of Depression

The causes of depression are not entirely understood. There is no single known cause of depression. It is likely that depression is a combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors.

Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain, and in fact many in the healthcare industry call depression a "brain disorder." Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. In addition, important chemicals in the brain appear to be out of balance for those with depression.

Though research shows that out-of-balance brain chemicals results in depression, little is known about how the chemicals become out of balance. Things that may trigger depression include:

  • Major events that create stress, such as childbirth or a death in the family.
  • Illnesses, such as arthritis, heart disease or cancer.
  • Certain medicines, such as steroids or narcotics for pain relief.
  • Drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs.

How to Treat Depression

Depression is usually treated with counseling or antidepressant medicine, or both. It sometimes takes a few tries to find the right treatment, and it can take several weeks for the medicine to start working. Try to be patient and stay with your treatment.

If you have mild or moderate depression, you may be diagnosed and treated by your family doctor and a therapist or psychologist. If you have severe depression or do not respond to treatment, it may be helpful to see a psychiatrist. This is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health problems. Severe cases of depression may need to be treated in the hospital.

Let your doctor know if you believe you are depressed, because depression is often overlooked. If you are diagnosed with depression, you and your doctor can decide on the best treatment. The earlier you are treated, the more quickly you will recover.

If you have had depression before, there is a good chance that it will happen again. Taking your medicines even after you feel better can help keep you from getting depressed again. Some people need to take medicine for the rest of their lives.

Suicide Warning Signs

Depression can lead to suicide. Learn the warning signs of suicide, and if you see them in a loved one, get help.

  • Planning to, or saying they want to, kill themselves or someone else.
  • Having a way to commit suicide, such as having a gun.
  • Being out of touch with reality, having severe anxiety, or thinking they hear voices giving them commands.
  • Using alcohol or drugs, especially in large amounts.
  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death. This includes writing suicide notes and talking about items that can cause physical harm, such as pills, guns, or knives.
  • Spending long periods of time alone.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Acting mean and aggressive, or suddenly acting calm.

If Someone You Love Is Depressed

If a suicide threat seems real, with a specific plan and a way to carry it out, the following guidelines may help:

  • Call 911 , a suicide hotline, or the police.
  • Stay with the person, or ask someone you trust to stay with the person, until the crisis has passed.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help.
  • Don't argue with the person ("It's not as bad as you think") or challenge him or her ("You're not the type to commit suicide").
  • Tell the person you don't want him or her to die. Talk about the situation as openly as possible.

Resources On Depression