Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What is Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression is a common and serious medical illness affecting more than 13 million Americans, or approximately 6.6 percent of the population in a given year. Unlike the normal ups and downs of everyday life, Major Depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual's thoughts, behavior, mood, and even physical health. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. often impairing social, academic and work functioning and causing significant emotional distress. Depression is the most predominant illness within the mental health arena.
Women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. However, some experts feel that depression in men is significantly under-reported. Major depression can occur at any age, including childhood, the teenage years and adulthood. Major depression has no racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic boundaries. About two-thirds of those who experience an episode of depression will have at least one other episode in their lives. It is not unusual for depression sufferers to have more than one episode in any given year.
Major depression, also known as unipolar depression, is only one type of depressive disorder. Other depressive disorders include dysthymia (a type of chronic depression) and bipolar depression (the depressed phase of bipolar disorder or manic depression). Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder experience both depression and mania in a cyclical fashion. Mania often involves abnormally and persistently elevated mood or irritability, elevated activity, grandiosity, rapid speech and racing thoughts.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Causes of Major Depressive Disorder

Scientists have not yet determined the root cause of major depression. However, there is strong evidence there may be several contributors to the illness. Psychological, biological and environmental factors may all contribute to its development. Whatever the specific causes, research has firmly established that major depression is a biological brain disorder.
Serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are three neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that transmit electrical signals between brain cells) thought to be involved with major depression. Several theories attempting to explain depression are based on an imbalance of these chemical messengers. It is thought that most antidepressant medications work by increasing the availability of neurotransmitters or by changing the sensitivity of the receptors for these chemicals.
Scientists have also found evidence of a genetic predisposition to major depression. There is an increased risk for developing depression when there is a family history of the illness. Not everyone with a genetic predisposition develops depression, but some people probably have a biological make-up that leaves them particularly vulnerable to developing depression. Life events, such as the death of a loved one, chronic stress, and alcohol and drug abuse, may trigger episodes of depression. Some illnesses such as heart disease and cancer and some medications may also trigger a depressive episode. Often, however, depressive episodes occur spontaneously and are not triggered by a life crisis or physical illness.

Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder

The onset of the first episode of major depressive disorder may not be obvious if it is gradual or mild. The symptoms of this disorder characteristically represent a significant change from how a person functioned before the illness. The symptoms of depression may include:
· feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness or guilt
· persistently sad or irritable mood
· pronounced changes in sleep habits and energy levels
· pessimistic feelings about the future
· trouble making decisions
· significant weight gain or loss
· difficulty thinking or concentrating
· low libido
· increased agitation
· lack of interest in or pleasure from activities typically enjoyed
· recurrent thoughts of death and/or suicide
When several of these symptoms occur at the same time, last longer than two weeks, and interfere with ordinary functioning, individuals should seek professional advice and treatment. If left untreated, major depression can lead to attempted suicide.