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What Is Depression?
Clinical depression is a medical condition that is related to neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain. These neurotransmitters play diverse roles, regulating mood, responsiveness to stimuli, appetite and more, which is why depression can take different forms and have different symptoms. Some people with depression tend to eat less, sleep more, and feel fatigued, while others tend to experience increases in appetite, insomnia, agitation, and anxiousness. Some individuals also experience significant, unexplained physical pain or other physical ailments.
The severity of depression can vary significantly from person to person. Some people suffer from a relatively mild but chronic form of depression called dysthymia, which is usually not disabling, but can make it extremely difficult to find pleasure in normal activities, and cause feelings of sadness and emptiness that may persist for years. Others may suffer from major depression that can be either moderate or severe, with symptoms that are more disabling and effect daily life. People with major depression may experience a single episode, or recurring episodes. In most cases, each episode will end by itself (with or without treatment), but can last up to six months.
There is also often a cognitive component to depression, which usually takes the form of a recognizable pattern of thinking characterized by pessimism, perfectionism, relentless self-criticism, helplessness, irrational guilt, and highly dichotomous (either-or, all-or-nothing) thoughts. It is often these distorted thought patterns that make it difficult for an individual to see her depression clearly or help herself effectively.
Depression is a real medical condition—not the result of weak character or a defective personality. Many people are reluctant to talk about their difficulties or seek treatment out of embarrassment or shame, but there is nothing to be ashamed about, and medical professionals should not be judgmental about the problems you are experiencing.
Suicidal Thoughts & Self-Harm
Thoughts of suicide and physical self-harm are very common among people struggling with depression. Sometimes, they are lurking in the background—you may think to yourself that, if things don’t get better, you can always kill yourself, or you may wish that you could just go to sleep at night and never wake up. But other times they become more forceful and dangerous.
If you are seriously thinking about harming yourself, please call 1-800-273-8255 right now. This is the national suicide prevention hotline, and you will be connected to a mental health professional in your area who can talk to you right now. There is no charge, and the call is completely confidential. If you want to find out more about this program before calling, you can find information at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also call 911 (or a local crisis hotline), if you prefer. Continued ›