Depression is a common and potentially debilitating – but highly treatable – condition. It may affect individuals from all walks of life, but occurs more frequently in individuals with chronic illnesses. For instance, at any given time, approximately 5-10% of the general population and 30-50% of individuals with epilepsy experience significant depressive symptoms. Among older adults, depression affects 8-20% of this entire population and is the most common mental health problem.
In addition to sad mood and/or loss of interest in pleasurable activities, clinically depressed individuals experience other significant symptoms.
In general, depression decreases the ability for individuals to function optimally in social and occupational settings. In older adults and individuals with chronic illnesses, depression may also lead to worsening of physical symptoms, poorer adherence to medical treatment and self-care activities, and poorer health status overall.
Depression: More Than a Sad Mood
When most people think about depression, they think about it as a condition in which people are sad or “blue” for several weeks at a time. Although this is accurate, it explains only one of the many symptoms that people may experience when they are clinically depressed. In fact, some people who are depressed may not even experience sad mood at all. Instead, they may find that they have lost all or most interest in pleasurable activities, such as participating in hobbies or spending time with friends, without ever feeling that their mood is sad, “blue” or depressed.
In addition to sad mood and/or loss of interest in pleasurable activities, clinically depressed individuals experience other significant symptoms. For instance, depression often leads to abnormal and disruptive sleep patterns – such as not being able to get enough sleep or sleeping too much. Depression can change one’s appetite, commonly leading to decreased appetite and weight loss or alternatively, to increased appetite, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Other common symptoms of depression include fatigue, poor concentration, nervousness and irritability, worsening of physical symptoms and pain, increased guilt and hopelessness, and loss of sex drive. Many individuals with depression also experience anxiety symptoms, and treating the anxiety is an important part of reducing depressive symptoms.
Untreated depression may lead to very serious consequences. Some individuals with depression can become so hopeless that they may begin to entertain thoughts of taking their own life and, unfortunately, a proportion of individuals succeed in doing so. Another, less severe consequence of depression involves a poorer overall health status, which may make both the depression and the other health conditions more difficult to treat.