Depression is a medical condition that can affect a person’s ability to work, study, interact with people or take care of themselves.
Many of us have felt sad or alone at some point. When sadness becomes too much to handle, or lingers for a long time, it may be a sign of depression. Depression is a medical condition that can affect people’s ability to work, study, interact with people or take care of themselves. It can be caused by imbalances in brain chemistry. But it can also be triggered by stress, poor nutrition, physical illness, personal loss, and school or relationship difficulties.
Not everyone experiences depression in the same way. Depressed people may appear withdrawn and despondent, or they may be aggressive and self-destructive. Some people may be depressed about a specific problem, while others feel deeply unhappy without knowing why. Sometimes, a depressed person may even appear “fine” to their friends and family. The common thread, however, is an overwhelming, persistent feeling of despair.
Depression affects about 19 million people in the United States every year. Depression can occur as a one-time incident during a time of distress, or it can recur throughout a person’s life. The first episode of depression often appears during the young adult years. In fact, nearly half of all college students say they’ve felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function during the last school year.
Depression isn’t always easy to spot. Some people experience primarily behavioral changes, some mainly emotional changes, and still others mostly physical changes. Here are some warning signs that a person may be depressed:
- Persistently sad, anxious, irritable or empty mood
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Significant change in appetite and/or weight
- Overreaction to criticisms
- Feeling unable to meet expectations
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt
- Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems or chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment
- Substance abuse problems
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
The good news is that depression is highly treatable. There are many available methods to treat depression, including medication and/or counseling. Between 80 and 90% of people who are treated for depression experience significant improvement, and almost all individuals gain some relief from their symptoms. It’s important to realize that depression can last months, or even years, if left untreated. If you or someone you know may be depressed, contact your school’s health center. The health center can connect you with a therapist or group counseling.
People who are depressed commonly think about suicide. It’s important to seek help immediately if you or someone you know is having these thoughts.
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Are you worried that a friend or loved one may be depressed? You may see warning signs that they can’t or don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe you’ve noticed their behavior or appearance has changed, or that they’re acting uncharacteristically withdrawn or despondent. They might be missing classes or seem suddenly disinterested in things they usually enjoy. Or perhaps they’ve talked to you about feeling hopeless or worthless. Don’t assume that the problem will go away on its own, or that your friend can just “snap out of it.”
Before talking about your concerns with your friend, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the symptoms and causes of depression. Explain to your friend that lately they’ve been behaving in ways that worry you. Some people get defensive or angry when they’re confronted; your conversation may go more smoothly if you don’t judge, get upset, or make accusations. Instead, try listening to your friend and asking open-ended questions about their feelings. You can’t force your friend into action, but you can make a big difference by offering your encouragement and help in seeking treatment.