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What is Major Depression?

Major depression is a mood disorder. It is a serious medical illness that affects one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, physical health, and relationships. Some of the symptoms include: depressed mood (sadness), poor concentration, insomnia, fatigue, appetite isturbances, excessive guilt and thoughts of suicide. Left untreated, depression can lead to serious impairment in daily functioning.

Below are some facts about major depression*. Please understand that this information is intended to have educational purpose. I would like to make it clear that depression being properly addressed, especially by mental health professionals, has increased chances of diminishing its symptoms with further disease cessation.

Major depressive disorder is associated with high mortality. Up to 5% of individuals with severe major depressive disorder die by suicide. Individuals with chronic or severe general medical conditions are at increased risk to develop major depressive disorder. Up to 20%-25% of individuals with certain general medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, myocardial infarction, carcinomas, or stroke) will develop this disorder during the course of their medical condition. The management of the medical condition is more complex and prognosis is less favorable if major depressive disorder is present. The lifetime risk for major depressive disorder in community samples has varied from 10% to 25% for women and from 5% to 12% for men.

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Artist Margarita Georgiadis

Major depressive disorder may begin at any age, with an average age at onset in the mid-20s. Major depressive disorder may end completely (in about 2-thirds of the cases), or only partially or not at all (in about one-third of cases). Studies suggest that psychosocial events (stressors) may play a more significant role in the precipitation of the first and second episodes and less on subsequent ones. General medical conditions and substance dependence (particularly alcohol or cocaine dependence) may contribute to the onset or exacerbation of major depressive disorder. Major depressive disorder is 1.5-3 times more common among first-degree biological relatives of persons with this disorder than among the general population.

*Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association.

The Treatment

Many interventions have been demonstrated to have positive impact on depression; however, when it comes to the treatment of depression, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is the worldwide lead psychotherapeutic approach. Its effectiveness has been supported by hundreds of scientific researches involving many thousands of participants. Part of the success of CBT for depression is due to the fact that people with depression tend to have many strong cognitive distortions (faulty thinking) that maintain their illness. CBT targets exactly that: the dysfunctional thoughts. During treatment the client learns to identify those thoughts through guided discovery. As the thoughts are uncovered, alternative ways of thinking are developed. As a result, clients little-by-little start to benefit from more positive feelings while on their way to recovery.

A Note of Caution: If you or a loved one is having symptoms of depression, I strongly encourage to search for professional help. While many people do overcome depression through means other than counseling, many suffer severe consequences in the absence of treatment. Be advised that if this is an emergency, please go immediately to the nearest emergency room or call 911.