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The Lowdown on Depression

Depressive disorders can make you feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Such negative thoughts and feelings may make you feel like giving up.

Major depressive disorder is not the same as feeling unhappy or in a “blue” mood, feelings that can usually pass with time. It is important to recognize the signs of depression and to know that treatment is often needed and, in many cases, is crucial to recovery.

Sad cup

According to findings from the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder is a leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44 and affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.

Specific symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad, down, empty or hopeless
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite
  • Changes in sleeping patterns, such as fitful sleep, inability to sleep, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much
  • Listlessness or restlessness that is observable by others
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Feeling worthless and/or helpless
  • Lasting feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or attempting suicide (Note: People with this symptom should seek help right away by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room.)

Girl in bed

The Facts

The research shows that depression diagnoses are increasing at a rapid rate in the U.S. One recent study published by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (2018) found that from 2013 to 2016, depression diagnoses increased 63 percent among adolescents (ages 12 to 17) and 47 percent among millennials (ages 18 to 34). Although this rise in depression may seem alarming, the data may reflect a positive trend – an increase in the rate at which symptoms of depression are being recognized.

The bottom line is that increased awareness leads to earlier recognition/identification of symptoms, which then allows for earlier intervention and prevention!

On that note, here are a few more facts you should know about depression:

  • While depression can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32
  • Depression is more prevalent in women than in men
  • There is no clear cause of depression. Experts think it happens because of chemical imbalances in the brain. Many factors can play a role in depression, including environmental, psychological, biological, and genetic factors.
  • Depression and sadness are not one and the same. Sadness is a part of being human, a natural reaction to painful circumstances. All of us will experience sadness at some point in our lives.
  • It’s treatable! You do not need to suffer if you have depression. There are many effective treatment options available, including psychotherapy, medication, and electroconvulsive therapy (used to treat severe, medication-resistant depression).

Man counseling

When should you seek professional help?

  • If your symptoms are causing notable distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning
  • If self-help strategies or behavioral interventions are not working
  • If your symptoms and associated distress/impairment persist for more than 2 weeks
  • If you have frequent thoughts about self-harm, death, or suicide

OIder Couple Holding Hands

Self-Help Strategies

There are also some strategies you can try on your own. Of note, these strategies can serve as a supplement to professional treatment but not as a replacement.

  • Set realistic goals for yourself each day.
  • Break large tasks into small ones and set priorities. Do what you can at a pace that feels right for you.
  • Avoid the urge to isolate. Spend time with friends and family. Confide in trusted, supportive people in your life and allow them help you.
  • Schedule activities that have boosted your mood in the past, such as going to a movie, gardening, or taking part in religious, social, or other activities. Doing something nice for someone else can also help you feel better.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Write down 3 things you are grateful for at the end of each day. This may help replace the negative thinking that often accompanies depression.
  • Make a list of positive affirmations and recite them to yourself several times a day, especially when you catch yourself having negative thoughts.
  • Stay away from alcohol and drugs, which can make depression worse.
  • People rarely “snap out of” depression. Expect your mood to get better slowly, not right away. Feeling better takes time.
  • Seek professional help. If you think you may be depressed, see a healthcare or mental health provider as soon as possible.

holding hands


About the Author

erika rajo

Erika Rajo, Psy.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry for LSU Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC), and the Trauma Psychologist at University Medical Center, New Orleans (UMCNO). She earned her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and completed both her predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship training at LSUHSC. Dr. Rajo specializes in the psychological assessment and treatment of patients in an integrated medical setting. She also has extensive training and clinical experience in the treatment of psychological trauma and has been working with patients experiencing trauma-related difficulties since 2011.