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Depression: At a Glance

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

People often use the term depression to describe the sad or discouraged mood that results from emotionally distressing events, such as a natural disaster, a serious illness, or death of a loved one.

Older people may feel depressed because of stresses, such as a reduced income, a worsening chronic illness, gradual loss of independence, or social isolation.

People may also say they feel depressed at certain times, such as during the holidays (holiday blues) or on the anniversary of a loved one's death.

However, such feelings do not usually represent a disorder. Usually, these feelings are temporary, lasting days rather than weeks or months, and occur in waves that tend to be tied to thoughts or reminders of the distressing event. Also, these feelings do not substantially interfere with functioning for any length of time.

Did You Know...

  • About 30% of people who visit a doctor say they feel depressed, but fewer than 10% have major (severe) depression.

  • Depression affects about 1 of every 6 older people.

For a full discussion, see Depression.

When Does Sadness Become Depression?

Depression is diagnosed when sadness is overly intense, is accompanied by certain other typical symptoms, and interferes with the ability to function physically, socially, and at work.

Depression involves more than feeling sad all the time. Other symptoms may include the following:

  • Feeling worthless and guilty

  • Losing interest and pleasure in activities that the person used to enjoy

  • Having trouble sleeping

  • Losing or gaining weight

  • Being unable to concentrate

  • Being indecisive

  • Withdrawing from friends and family

  • Feeling progressively helpless and hopeless

  • Thinking about death and suicide

Did You Know...

  • Some children with depression are overactive and irritable rather than sad.

Depressive disorders typically develop during a person's mid teens, 20s, or 30s, although depression can begin at almost any age, including during childhood.

Depression and Suicide

As many as 15% of untreated depressed people end their life by suicide. Treatment with antidepressants is thought to reduce this risk. However, recently, there has been concern that antidepressants may cause a slight increase in the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior, especially in younger children and adolescents. Studies done to try to settle this issue found that suicidal thought and attempts may increase very slightly in children who take antidepressants.

Nonetheless, eventually, when depression is relieved, children have fewer suicidal thoughts and less suicidal behavior. Thus, doctors tend to agree that children with depression often benefit from drug treatment as long as they and family members are alert for worsening symptoms or suicidal thoughts.

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