According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in 10 American adults suffers from a depressive illness during any given one-year time period. Over the course of a lifetime, the prevalence of experiencing a depressive disorder may reach to nearly one in five for women, and one in eight for men — and some sources give even higher estimates.
Despite being a fairly common condition, depression is still a widely misunderstood and “stigmatized” disorder – causing some to feel a sense of disgrace or embarrassment. Providing accurate information to patients and their families is one of the best ways to help people recognize the symptoms of depression and to encourage treatment.
Depression often works its way quietly into people’s lives. The very nature of depressive symptoms impedes someone’s ability to realize that he or she is depressed. These same symptoms can even suppress one’s desire to seek treatment. Symptoms often creep up slowly over time, and those suffering from depression may have trouble remembering what it’s like to feel good.
Patients may describe depression as a black hole of despair, holding them down and shutting out any feelings of hope, excitement, or the possibility of future happiness. For many, joy disappears and everything is experienced as being bland or flat.
The prospect of continuing to feel this way day after day can be daunting. Many people who are depressed will find various ways to escape this reality. Some may self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, and/or food. Others may sleep the days away, avoiding contact with others and the outside world. Some may resort to suicide. Each year, approximately 500,000 Americans are treated for attempted suicide; each day, 85 die from these attempts.
Fortunately, depression is treatable. Once the illness is recognized and addressed, individuals with depression can rediscover the delights and pleasures of life.