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Understanding Depression: What It Is, Who Is at Risk and Where to Find Support

With an estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States experiencing at least one major depressive episode in a given year, understanding depression – what it is, who it affects and where you can find help – is increasingly important. Equipped with a better understanding of depression, you may be able to better support someone in your life facing depression.

What is Depression?

The word “depression” is often used to describe a lot of different feelings. People feel sad or blue when bad things happen. But everyday “blues” or sadness is not a depressive disorder. While we all may experience some symptoms of depression in the short-term, a major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person’s ability to work, carry out usual daily activities and have satisfying personal relationships.

Symptoms of Depression

To understand depression, it’s critical that you are familiar with its symptoms. A person experiencing clinical depression would have a least one of these two symptoms, nearly every day, for at least two weeks:

  1. An unusually sad mood.
  2. Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.

The person may also experience any of these symptoms:

  1. Lack of energy and tiredness.
  2. Feeling worthless or feeling guilty though not really at fault.
  3. Thinking often about death or wishing to be dead.
  4. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  5. Moving more slowly or sometimes becoming agitated and unable to settle down.
  6. Having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
  7. Loss of interest in food or eating too much. Changes in eating habits may lead to either weight loss or weight gain.

Not every person with depression has all these symptoms – the number and severity differs from person to person. Symptoms of depression can affect a person’s emotions, thinking, behavior and physical well-being.

Who Depression Affects

Understanding who depression affects can help you determine whether you or someone you know may be experiencing – or be at risk for developing – depression. While depression can affect anyone, there are certain segments of the population at higher risk for developing depression. For example, depression is more common among women than men. The median age of onset for depression is 32 years, meaning that half of people who will ever have a depressive episode will have had their first episode by this age. Additionally, depression often co-occurs with anxiety or substance use disorders, so people with these health challenges may also be at higher risk for developing depression. But, while mood disorders like depression affect nearly one in 10 U.S. adults each year, the good news is that help is available.

Where to Find Support for Depression

Most people living with depression recover and lead satisfying and productive lives. There is a range of effective treatments for depression, including supportive counseling, psychological therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medical treatment like antidepressant medications. But self-help strategies like exercise, relaxation training and self-help books based on CBT have also been proven effective at mitigating the symptoms of depression. If you’re looking for more information on where to find support for depression, there are a number of organizations, websites and other resources available to help, like Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

With the right information and training, you can #BeTheDifference in the life of a person living with depression – whether that means directing them to treatment or simply providing a non-judgmental listening ear. Learn more about how to identify and support someone facing depression by taking a Mental Health First Aid course in your community.