Depression (also called clinical depression, major depression, or major depressive disorder) is a mental disorder that is characterized by feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in normal activities, and an inability to experience happiness or pleasure. While everyone experiences periods of sadness in their lives, or days when they are "feeling blue" or feeling down, such instances are not the same thing as depression. Depression is a medical illness that affects both the mind and the body. The feelings of sadness that occur with depression tend to persist for weeks, months, or sometimes longer and the person who is suffering cannot simply "snap out" of it.
Depression is very common in the United States. It is hard to know for sure how many people are affected by depression because many people never seek treatment for their illness. Nonetheless, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that depression affects close to 15 million American adults (about 7 percent) each year. Some of these people experience an episode of depression only once, while others may continue to have recurrent episodes for many years. Depression can occur at any age but most commonly arises in the 20s or early 30s. The disorder is about twice as frequent in women as it is in men.
Children can also experience depression. It is estimated that approximately 2.5% of children in the United States (one in every 40 children) suffer from depression. Depression is more common in boys under the age of ten, but in the teens, the disorder is more common in girls. Depression in children is just as serious as it is in adults. If you suspect your child (or any child) or teenager is depressed or if they are talking about suicide, get them to a health professional as soon as possible.
Continued on page 2: What are the symptoms of depression?