National Suicide Prevention hotline: 800-273-8255
It’s about as prevalent as asthma, but often it’s spoken of far less openly. A 2017 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that over 17 million American adults had experienced a least one major depressive episode in the past year. Also know as major depression, this condition is characterized by feelings of sadness or loss of interest for at least two weeks, and it can severely impact a person’s ability to function.
Misconceptions about what depression is and how it can impact a person’s mind and body can prevent those who are struggling from seeking help as well as invalidate their suffering. The hard facts to follow are a good starting point for understanding this mental health challenge and coming alongside those who wrestle with it.
It’s more than feeling sad or experiencing grief.
Everyone feels down from time to time, but depression is more than a passing mood. Unlike sadness or grief, which are emotions typically prompted by specific factors, depression is persistent and may appear with no apparent cause. Though loss or pain can cause depressed feelings and may eventually lead to a major depressive episode, these emotions on their own are not depression.
Symptoms of depression can impact not only feelings, but the entire body. They include:
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of energy
- Lack of interest in activities
- Feelings of guilt
- Physical aches and pains, such as headaches
- Digestive problems
- Suicidal thoughts
Major depression is one of the most common mental illnesses and the leading cause of disability in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 7% percent of adults in the U.S. has experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
Young people are at greater risk.
The aforementioned NIMH study found that adolescents (ages 12-17) and young adults (ages 18-25) are more prone to major depressive disorder, with over 13% of both groups experiencing an episode in the past year.
It’s more prevalent among women.
The NIMH reports that women are more likely to experience major depression: 8.7% of females deal with this challenge over the course of a year, compared to 5.3% of males. However, men are believed to be less likely to report symptoms of depression and less likely to seek treatment.
It can be treated.
For most people experiencing major depression, treatment can provide significant relief. Psychotherapy and medications are the most common forms of treatment, and they are sometimes supplemented with options such as brain stimulation therapies, light therapy and alternative approaches including acupuncture. In addition, lifestyle strategies such as getting adequate sleep, regular exercise and eating regular, nutritious meals can play an important role in managing depressive symptoms.
Many who are struggling go untreated.
Numerous factors, including stigma, lack of access to qualified care providers and lack of awareness of the effectiveness of treatment can serve as roadblocks for those who are struggling. The NIMH report found that over a third of adults and more than 60% of adolescents dealing with major depression had not received treatment in the past year.
It increases the risk of suicide.
Mental illnesses like major depression are significant risk factors for suicide, especially when these conditions are untreated. In a time when loneliness and isolation continue to take their toll on mental health, it’s especially important to know the signs of suicide and keep a watchful, caring eye out for those who might be struggling. And, if needed, be ready to contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline: 800-273-8255
Though the full impact of the pandemic on mental health has yet to be seen, it’s apparent that this global health challenge is increasing rates of depression and other mental health struggles. A recent report from Mental Health America found the number of people reporting symptoms of depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation have all increased since 2019.
Amid this season of ongoing challenges, The Well Community continues to provide resources and support for those living with major depression and other serious mental illnesses—people who often lack the safety net of a caring network of friends and family. Your support will help us provide an accepting community and necessities for health and dignity. Give now.