It’s not at all uncommon to see television advertisements for various prescription medications, including those claiming to treat depression. There is good reason for all of these marketing efforts, since Americans face numerous health-related challenges as they age. While not possessing the lethal characteristics of such notorious killers as high cholesterol and cancer, depression still dampens the lives of millions of adults. Though they might seem inevitable, bouts of recurring depression can be effectively treated with proper medical care and sound lifestyle choices.
Depression by the Numbers
The attention direction toward depression isn’t just the result of marketing hype. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 in 10 adult Americans (specifically, 9.1%) have at least some symptoms of depression. With an adult population of 235 million at the time of survey, this figure translates into nearly 21 million Americans with depression symptoms. In addition to this headlining number, the CDC report yielded a number of telling details:
- The CDC classifies 3.4% of Americans as having major depression. This figure equates to 8 million Americans.
- Depression tends to prey on the lonely; 6.6% of survey respondents who had never married or divorced reported feeling at least some symptoms of depression. In contrast, only a third as many married people (2.2%) were depressed.
- While most of us don’t especially look forward to work, having a steady job seems to be good for your mental wellbeing; just 2% of job holders experienced depression. For those not bringing home a paycheck, this number soared to 9.8%. Respondents who were unable to work for various reasons fared even worse, as 22.2% of those in this category reported depressive symptoms.
- In terms of racial demographics, depression rates were 3.1% for non-Hispanic whites, 4% for Hispanics and 4% for blacks.
- Curiously enough, the age group with the lowest rate of depression was senior citizens at 1.6%. Young adults aged 18 to 24 had a depression rate of 2.8%. The unwanted title of most depressed age group went to those in the 46 to 64 bracket, with depression affecting 4.6% of these older adults.
Making depression even more potent is its unrelenting tenacity, as recurring depressive episodes are fairly common among depression sufferers. It is estimated that 50 percent of depression patients suffer at least one relapse during their lifetime. Recurring depression tends to feed upon itself, as those who have experienced two episodes stand an 80 percent change of facing subsequent depressive bouts.
Common Depression Triggers and Warning Signs
In addition to its persistence, depression is also a very opportunistic foe, taking advantage of a patient’s bad luck or personal struggles to come roaring back. If you have found yourself feeling dejected and melancholic as of late, one of these reasons might explain why:
Losing Your Job – As the CDC report mentioned above made abundantly clear, people who are safely employed encounter depression far less often than their unemployed counterparts.
Problems in the Bedroom – Understandably, few people like to talk about difficulties in their sex lives. This can make getting treatment difficult; after all, how can your doctor help you if you can’t even talk about your bedroom problems? This sudden lack of sexual prowess can have a debilitating impact on self-esteem, especially for men.
Adjusting to an Empty Nest – Most parents devote countless hours of time and effort towards raising their children. While all of this hard work should be applauded, some parents react poorly to seeing their children fly the coop, often feeling as if their lives are suddenly empty and devoid of meaning.
Alcohol Abuse – For millennia, civilizations have struggled to mitigate the inherent drawbacks of alcohol. One such consequence is depression, as alcoholic beverages have a depressing effect on the body’s central nervous system. Because of this, heavy drinkers often feel dejected, sluggish and lethargic.
Debt – Debt is a slowly constricting albatross around the necks of millions of people. Staring up a mountain of debt can easily keep debtors up at night, and the prospect of spending years or decades repaying debts could make anyone feel depressed.
Divorce – Divorce is often a messy, protracted and vicious process, and is usually preceded by years of tension and ill-will. The various emotions experienced by both parties, such as frustration, regret and anger, can easily lead to bouts of depression.
When confronted by one or more of these triggers, many people begin to mentally crumble under the additional stress. Combined with a history of depression, a patient can easily slip back into a depressive episode. A patient’s friends, family and coworkers can often tell that something is awry; for example, a person in the midst of a bout of depression may begin to struggle at work, failing behind on key assignments and failing to perform routine tasks.
In addition to work-related problems, a depressed person’s social life can also suffer. Depression often causes people to avoid close friends and family members, to the point of canceling scheduled get-togethers and ignoring phone calls and texts. The patient’s appetite and sleeping patterns can also deteriorate noticeably. During a depressive period, people frequently struggle with both falling asleep and staying asleep. With regards to appetite, the impact of depression can vary wildly; a patient might experience insatiable cravings for food, or nearly lose his or her desire for food entirely.
Arguably the most alarming red flags of a depressive episode appear when a person expresses feelings of hopelessness and despair. This may mean that the patient has given up hope on ever turning things around, and sees no end to his or her depression. In a worst-case scenario, a person may hint of suicidal thoughts. Patients with a history of depression who exhibit suicidal tendencies often require immediate psychiatric attention.
Keeping Depression at Bay
Given its many causes and tendency to return repeatedly, depression is a very tough opponent to vanquish. To alleviate depression symptoms, a patient might have to first deal with the triggers behind his or her depression. For example, financial counselors can assist with outstanding debts, and friends or colleagues can help with finding job leads. In addition to these trigger-specific tips, a patient can follow some general guidelines for better mental health.
- If you are on medications for depression, continue to take them as prescribed. Patients sometimes stop taking their medicines without their doctor’s approval, mistakenly believing that they are no longer needed.
- Exercise doesn’t just add bulk to your muscles; it also releases feel-good chemicals inside the brain called endorphins. As a result, many people who exercise regularly experience a swell of positive emotions after a workout. Just 20 minutes per day of even moderate physical activity can brighten your mood.
- While poor appetite and sleeping patterns often signal depression, they can also double as triggers of depressive episodes. A healthy diet should emphasize fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean meats. When it comes to sleep, 7 to 9 hours each night should suffice.
- When facing emotional turmoil, it can be tempting to cut others off and attempt to deal with the problem on your own. Unfortunately, this strategy can easily have the exact opposite effect, effectively worsening the patient’s symptoms. Seeking the guidance of trusted friends and family members might be a good first step towards recovery.