Depression: The Misunderstood Diagnosis

Depression is one of the most misunderstood maladies we face today. It is a potentially serious problem that is so common place, we often take it for granted. Although serious depression has been estimated to afflict 1 out of 5 people at some time during their lives, mild mood disturbance seems to affect all of us. The term is so readily used that we often do an injustice to those experiencing true depression. How many times have you heard someone saying that they are “so depressed” because their favorite team lost the big game? Yet we frequently overlook the subtle signs that indicate depression in a loved one or co-worker. Take the following case of someone recently seen by LifeScope (names and vital data have been changed).

Mrs. Jones was being interviewed about her husband. “I should have realized that something was wrong when I told Robert how excited I was about the U.S. women’s soccer team winning the World Cup. He turned to me and replied: ‘Yeah. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we achieve world peace but it is too late because we’ve already destroyed our environment?’ This was not like him. Then the next week he quit his job because he was ‘tired of it’ and now he is staying home watching TV.”

This example of how depression can sometimes affect people is not as unusual as it seems. It tends to sneak up, as it did with Robert Jones, first by altering his views. Negative attitudes, both about self and others, are characteristic of those prone to depression. Depression grew until it completely took over Robert’s mood, making everything seem dark and useless. This led to his impulsive decision to quit, one which will later be regretted because depression has altered Robert’s judgment as well. If left unchecked, this could lead to marital problems, drug or alcohol abuse, and suicide attempts.

There are several different varieties of depression. Some people experience mood swings that include “highs” as well as the more common “lows”. Other people have a less obvious form of depression, characterized by “chronic blues” that don’t vary greatly between highs or toward more noticeable lows. Yet this variety of depression can considerably detract from one’s quality of life, sometimes leading to “major depressive episodes”. Major depression can include any of a number of biological or psychological symptoms (see side panel) and can be so impairing that normal functioning, either at home or at work, becomes impossible.

American business has long felt the consequences of depression at the workplace. According to a recent Gallup poll, managers report that an average of 13% of their employees suffer from depression. They further report that 36% have difficulty concentrating, 35% experience sleep problems, 27% report loss of energy, and 18% have a loss of interest in work. In combination with stress and anxiety, many managers felt that depression contributed to decreased production, lower morale, higher absenteeism, and increased drug and alcohol abuse. The combined costs associated with time lost from work and expenses to treat depression have been estimated in excess of $16 billion per year.

The good news is that depression is a very treatable disorder. Because there are significant psychological as well as biological components to depression, the best approach often is to combine “talk therapy” or counseling with medication. For many people, however, medication is not necessary. With either approach, you can experience relief in just a few weeks.

Common Symptoms of Depression *

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of emptiness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed, including sex
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

* from the National Institute of Mental Health

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