Everyone experiences disappointment or sadness in life. But if the “down” times last a long time or interfere with your ability to function, you may be suffering from a common medical illness called depression. Major depression affects your mood, mind, body and behavior.
Nearly 18 million Americans — one in ten adults — experience depression each year, and about two-thirds don’t get the help they need. Women experience twice the rate of depression as men, regardless of race or ethnic background. An estimated one in eight women will suffer from major depression in their lifetimes.
Major depression is more than feeling sad after losing a loved one, or feeling irritable or down because of work-related stress or financial or family problems. Major depression occurs when these feelings increase in duration and intensity and affect daily functioning.
With the correct diagnosis, major depression can be treated effectively. Some people experience symptoms over a long period of time, while others may have a time-limited bout of depression. Without treatment, these bouts can occur frequently. To meet the criteria for major depression, most of the following symptoms must be present for at least two weeks, or interfere with work or family life: Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood. Loss of interest or pleasure in regular activities. Restlessness, irritability or excessive crying. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, low self-esteem or guilt. Inability to concentrate, remember things and make decisions. Changes in sleep and appetite (too much or too little). Loss of energy.
Fortunately, major depression is highly responsive to treatment. Most people return to their daily routines and experience relief from feeling depressed. But many women avoid seeking professional help because they don’t realize the benefits. There are a number of good reasons to see a healthcare professional: A medical problem may be responsible for your condition. Talking to a professional may add another layer of support. Perhaps you can’t talk openly with your family about what’s really bothering you. You may find comfort in knowing that other women feel the same way as you do.
Like certain other conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, depression can raise a woman’s risk of heart disease. This makes the need for treatment even more compelling. You may want to start by talking with your family doctor, your gynecologist or a practitioner at the local health clinic. A primary-care doctor can make referrals to a mental-health specialist for an evaluation and possible treatment.