According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17 million adult Americans suffer from depression during any one-year period. Many do not even recognize that they have a condition that can be treated very effectively.
Learn about the ways in which psychotherapy can help some people recover from depression.
How does depression differ from occasional sadness?
Everyone feels sad or "blue" on occasion. Most people grieve over upsetting life experiences such as a major illness, loss of job, a death in the family or divorce. These feelings of grief tend to become less intense on their own as time goes on.
Depression occurs when feelings of extreme sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or longer and when they interfere with activities of daily living - such as working, or even eating and sleeping. Depressed people tend to feel helpless and hopeless and to blame themselves for having these feelings. Some may have thoughts of death or suicide.
People who are depressed may become overwhelmed and exhausted and stop participating in certain everyday activities altogether. They may withdraw from family and friends.
What causes depression?
Changes in the body's chemistry influence mood and thought processes, and biological factors contribute to some cases of depression. In addition, chronic and serious illness such as heart disease or cancer may be accompanied by depression. With many individuals, however, depression signals first and foremost that certain mental and emotional aspects of a person's life are out of balance.
Significant transitions and major life stressors such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job can help bring about depression. Other more subtle factors that lead to a loss of identity or self-esteem may also contribute to depression. The causes of depression are not always immediately apparent, so the disorder requires careful evaluation and diagnosis by a trained mental health care professional.
Sometimes the circumstances involved in depression are ones over which an individual has little or no control. At other times, however, depression occurs when people are unable to see that they actually have choices and can bring about change in their lives.
Can depression be treated successfully?
Absolutely. Depression is highly treatable when a person receives competent care. Psychologists are among the licensed and highly trained mental health providers with years of experience studying depression and helping patients recover from it.
There is still some stigma, or reluctance, associated with seeking help for emotional and mental problems, including depression. Unfortunately, feelings of depression often are viewed as a sign of weakness rather than as a signal that something is out of balance. The fact is, people with depression cannot simply "snap out of it" and feel better spontaneously.
People with depression who do not seek help suffer needlessly. Unexpressed feelings and concerns accompanied by a sense of isolation can worsen a depression. The importance of obtaining quality professional health care cannot be overemphasized.