According to National Institute of Health, Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults. This is about 7% of the population age 18 or older. When you add in Dysthymic Disorder or Persistent Depressive Disorder, chronic low grade depression that does not quite fit the bill for major depression, the percentage of sufferers goes up to almost 9%. My guess is that there are many people limping around with chronic low grade depression who don't really even know they are suffering. So maybe the percentage is even a bit higher? I do not know. But it is alarming to me that almost 10% of the United States is struggling with a very painful set of symptoms we call depression. The NIH notes the signs and symptoms as follows:
These symptoms are nothing to take lightly. They can be debilitating and even cause disability. It is not completely clear what causes depression, but it appears when looking at brain scans of a depressed person that they look different from a non-depressed person's. As with many things in life, depression is probably initiated by a combination of interacting factors and systems including genes, biology, environment (stress and trauma), and psychology (inner thoughts and views of self, perception and sense of purpose and meaning). Many illnesses, including thyroid disorders, cause depressive symptoms.
Until recently, nobody really considered the impact our relationships have on our mood and maybe even our brains. This is changing. Researchers such as Jim Coan, Ph.D., Sue Johnson, Ed.D, Wayne Denton, M.D., and others are all looking into this. It appears that relationships and attachments can greatly affect our moods and life, and improving them may help decrease depression. It is exciting to me to know that we have one more option (traditional options are medication and/or individual counseling) to offer people as part of the basic treatment plan for those suffering from depression: family, couple, or relationship counseling.
For more information check out this great article by Russell Collins: Are Relationships the New Prozac?
Good relationships and social support are nature's antidepressants. Who knew? Deep down inside, I think we all did . . . and do.
Evelyn Schmechtig -Cochran