Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Depression Basics
What's a simple definition of major depression?
Major depression is a condition of the brain and nervous system that causes a loss of both pleasure and interest in life. It is usually characterized by sadness, pessimism, and hopelessness. However, depression is more than just a change in emotions; it is a real medical illness with physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, change in weight, decreased energy, slowness, and difficulty focusing.
Is major depression a medical disease or just a bad attitude?
Medical, biological, and psychological factors are all at work in major depression. The physical symptomsmental slowing, poor concentration, intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, change in appetite, decreased energy, decreased sexual interest, body pain, and disrupted body rhythmsdemonstrate that depression is a physical process. The depressive thoughts of pessimism, worry, self-criticism, distortion, and death are clearly psychological.
It is unfortunate that the word "depression" is used to describe both a medical disease and a bad mood. Some people confuse the two and think that the significant physical, mental, and emotional deterioration caused by major depression is no more serious than a bad mood. Anyone who has suffered from the disease of major depression knows that there is little similarity between the two. This linguistic mix-up contributes to some myths surrounding major depression. After all, if you're just in a bad mood, people wonder why you cannot exert some effort and pull yourself out of it. However, you usually cannot pull yourself out of major depression; it can be severely debilitating and too often results in death by accident or suicide. People do not kill themselves because they are in a bad mood.
There are even other, different medical conditions that have the word "depression" in the title, like bipolar depression, organic depression, etc. To keep everything straight, in this book we will often use the correct term "unipolar major depression" so there is no question of what we mean.
Is depression a fad diagnosis?
Major depression has been recognized by physicians since the beginning of written medicine, and during that time, depression symptoms have not changed. The Greek godfather of medicine, Hippocrates (who authored the Hippocratic Oath sworn by most doctors), described major depression symptoms in 400 BC: sleeplessness, despondency, irritability, restlessness, and an aversion to food. One of the first English-language books on depression was published in 1621 (The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton). Depression is no trendy diagnosis; we have known about it and been aware of its seriousness for a long time.
How many people are affected by clinical depression?
Every year major depression affects well over 18 million people, 6 percent of the total population of the United States. Counting spouses, significant others, parents, children, grandparents, doctors, nurses, psychotherapists, and friends, depression touches the lives of about 200 million people in the United States right now. These figures are similar for other developed countries.
Does depression cause physical problems?
Major depression can disrupt the normal functions of your body, causing decreased sexual interest and hormonal changes, as well as an increase in headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, stomachaches, and digestive problems. Major depression alters the biochemistry of your brain, and every episode of depression makes the illness worse. Your thoughts are slowed, your concentration is impaired, and intrusive thoughts come into your mind and repeat over and over. Your mind is taken over by worries, self-criticism, guilt, and thoughts of death. During an episode of major depression, your perception of the world is distorted. Good situations look worse than they are, and bad situations look hopeless. Wherever you look, there is no satisfaction and no peace from your dark, negative emotions and thoughts.