Feelings of sadness are proof that we are alive. Life is sometimes tough to deal with and there may be short periods of time when we barely recognize our own familiar emotional landscape. Clinical depression is quite different from these normal ups and downs. There may be a feeling of sadness but it has a different quality to it.
As we rollick through our lives, up one day, and down the next, our experience is often one of intense engagement. Pain is painful, sadness sad and anger, angry. We are feeling our feelings and we are still able to get up in the morning and fulfill the necessary tasks of life.
The most significant symptom of severe depression is not just the sadness, more than that, it is the feeling of not being able to go on; normal functioning becomes impossible.
There are varying degrees of depression. A major depression will be almost incapacitating in its severity while dysthymia, a chronic, long-term form of depression, though not as crippling and intense as a major depressive episode, will have the effect of taking the edge off life for several years. Whole lives can be lived in this way.
Depression is thought to result from a combination of factors. Biologically there may be an imbalance of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Serotonin and nor-epinephrine are two primary brain messengers that are thought to be influential in the area of moods and emotion. Many anti-depressants today work by addressing imbalances in these brain chemicals.
Environmental factors like death and loss may trigger a depressive episode especially if there is a hereditary predisposition. Physical changes in the body as a result of illness or accident may also cause depression.
Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men are. This is thought to be a function of various hormonal factors together with menstrual cycles, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause, all of which impact the delicate hormonal balance that can trigger depression.
Women who are depressed are more inclined to seek help than men are. This may be a reason why the suicide rate for men is four times as high as it is for women. Men do suffer from depression though they are much less likely to see a professional about it and doctors are more reluctant to imply that depression may be a problem.
Women and men experience and react to depression differently too. Where women may be overtly weepy and sad, men will more likely be irritable and angry. Men tend to disguise their depression behind compulsive behaviors like over indulgence in drinks and drugs and excessive working. One of the more worrying aspects of depression is that it is insidious and very often hard to recognize, especially at the onset. It is hard to discern when appropriate feelings of sadness have crossed the line into depression. Despite this, or even because of this, it is imperative to know what depression looks like so that the appropriate treatment can be sought as soon as possible. Like most other illnesses, treatment is far more successful when applied as soon after the onset as is possible.