The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 6.7% of the U.S. adult population has a major depressive disorder in any given 12 month period. The number goes up to 16.5% when looking at how many people have depression over the course of their lifetime.
Depression is a devastating condition that can rob you of the precious ability to enjoy life. It is a leading cause of disability, missed work, troubled relationships and illness.
Depression is also a misunderstood and under treated disorder complicated by several factors which can make it harder to understand and overcome:
The people closest to you may take it personally. When you are irritable they may think it’s because you are mad at them. When you are sad they may think it’s because they aren’t making you happy. If they try to get you to “talk about what’s wrong” you may feel pressured and misunderstood while they may feel rebuffed and confused.
You may think your problems are the “real” problem. When you are depressed everything seems like “too much” and your energy is so low that the smallest task can seem daunting. It’s easy to believe that it is the daily challenges (the unexpected car expense, the argument with your spouse, the bad weather on a weekend you had looked forward to) that have you down and overlook the underlying depression.
You may have a hard time accepting advice about what to do about it. A sense of hopelessness is at the core of depression. When someones suggests that maybe exercise or therapy or a change in diet or talking to your doctor or a counselor might help you may be skeptical that any of these recommendations will change anything.
You may be embarrassed by the cultural stigma of psychiatric illnesses. The stigma of depression begins with the social pressure to be upbeat and energetic: “don’t be a downer.” The shame associated with illnesses (including depression) that are diagnosed on the basis on thoughts, feelings and behavior makes it harder to ask for help. Asking for help requires energy and a sense that you are worth helping, which are both scarce when you are depressed.
Your problems may be compounded by sleep deprivation. Depression can cause sleep problems and sleep problems can make depression worse. Sleep deprivation attacks the areas left most vulnerable by depression: energy level, mood, and clarity of thinking.
You may be inclined to drink more. Alcohol offers the possibility of momentary relief from the some of depression’s most distressing symptoms like sadness and anxiety. Unfortunately the desired relief often comes at a high price because of both the “crashing” affect that follows and from the many other interpersonal problems that alcohol can cause.
It is important to understand that, whatever the complications, the treatments available for depression are highly effective.
The first step is to speak to a professional who can evaluate your symptoms and discuss your treatment options.
If your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) you can call 24/7 to speak with, and/or schedule an appointment with, a mental health counselor. You can also talk with your primary care physician about depression as you would about any other illness.
Don’t let the complications get in the way of making that call.