Health Report: Understanding Clinical Depression

Many people experience periods of sadness during their lifetime. This feeling may last for as little as a couple of hours or for as long as two weeks or more. Although people often equate an extended period of sadness with depression, people who experience it are not necessarily suffering from clinical depression. 

Significant differences exist between clinical depression and sadness, with the latter being a natural reaction to a painful circumstance, such as the death of a relative or a divorce. Depression, however, is a medical condition with several more symptoms than an unhappy mood.

Depression normally lasts for more than two weeks. People who suffer from the condition typically complain of low energy, sadness or irritability, and an inability to enjoy activities. Other symptoms include concentration problems, memory lapses, difficulty making decisions, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and a preoccupation with thoughts of death or suicide.

The exact cause of the condition is not entirely known, but it might be triggered by an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Studies have shown that it runs in families and is often triggered by a stressful event and lack of social support.

Depression affects more than 19 million people in the U.S. It can develop in anyone, regardless of race, social status or sex – although women experience it twice as often as men do. One out of every 10 adults who visits a primary care physician has depression, but it goes undetected in about half of those cases. Psychiatric physicians are specially trained to recognize clinical depression and can offer effective treatments.

Complicating the ability of physicians to detect depression in children and adolescents are “mood swings” and other emotional changes that are often a normal part of development. Approximately one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents may have depression, but countless cases go undiagnosed. Once a child experiences an episode of depression, he or she is at risk of having a subsequent episode within the next five years. Before puberty, the rate of the condition occurs equally in boys and girls.

However, teenage girls are more likely to develop it than teenage boys are. Furthermore, children and teenagers who have a chronic illness or who experience abuse, neglect or other trauma have an increased risk of developing depression.

The most disturbing statistic regarding depression in children and adolescents is the suicidal death rate. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year-olds. Moreover, the rate of attempted suicide and self-harm is higher.

Effective treatment is available for children, adolescents and adults who suffer from depression. Professional psychiatric and psychological counseling, medications (e.g., antidepressants) and family education have shown great promise in helping people successfully recover.

Unfortunately, many people report embarrassment or shame as a barrier in seeking treatment because they incorrectly identify depression as a weakness or flaw instead of a medical condition.

If you think you or a loved one is suffering from depression, consult a physician today for a proper evaluation.  

For more information, visit scripps.org/KUSI or call 858-240-5075.

Categories: Health