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Major Depressive Disorder

Referred to as the 'common cold of mental illnesses,' major depressive disorder affects between 10 to 20 million individuals in the United States alone. Also referred to as clinical, or unipolar depression, major depressive disorder is characterized by a pervasive depressed mood, one that lasts for a long period of time and is marked by a loss of interest in the activities that once brought a person pleasure. This illness is considered to be a youthful one as it usually begins between the ages of 18 and 45. However, it's important to note that major depressive disorder can begin in children and seniors as well.

Major depressin affects women more often than it does men, at a rate of about two to one. People with a depressed parent are also more likely to have the illness. Studies utilizing twins have shown that there does indeed appear to be a genetic predisposition to clinical depression.

Many people report just one major depressive episode in their lives. However, about 50 % will struggle through more than one. It's important to note here that if an individual has more than one major depressive episode in his/her lifetime, the likelihood of enduring future episodes increases to between 70 & 80 percent. Of course, the course of the illness does vary. Clinical depression is usually triggered by a variety of situations such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, childhood trauma, war, natural disasters, poverty, alcoholism and more. A general episode of major depression lasts for at least two weeks and generally linger for about nine months. 

Common symptoms attributed to unipolar depression include (but are not limited to):

  • sadness
  • emptiness
  • hopelessness
  • irritability
  • anger
  • insomnia
  • sleeping too much
  • eating too much
  • eating too little
  • cognitive difficulties
  • feelings of worthlessness and/or guilt
  • fatigue
  • and thoughts of suicide.

Certain physical illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, hepatitis, hypothyroidism, mononucleosis, sleep apnea and fibromyalgia can exist in conjunction with repression. Other mental illnesses can also co-exist with major depression. Some of these are substance abuse, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Clinical depression can not be diagnosed in a laboratory. However, an individual seeking a diagnosis should be seen by his/her primary care doctor for a full checkup to rule out other medical conditions of which depression can be a symptom. If no such causes are discovered, then a psychiatric evaluation should be done.

At this point, a treatment plan will be suggested. Common treatments for major depression include medication, psychotherapy, electroconvulsive therapy, herbal remedies and other alternative treatments such as acupuncture, light therapy and exercise.

The prognosis for unipolar depression depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is an individual's willingness to seek and continue treatment in the long-term.

(Note: Clinical depression is a major risk factor for suicide. Therefore, it's vitally important that if you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from major depressive disorder you seek help as soon as possible.)