Companion Benefit Alternatives

Depression

Everyone feels down from time to time. Life can be tough, after all. We deal with stress at work, stress at home, disappointment, frustration – the list goes on and on. But how can you tell when it’s more than feeling down? How do you know whether you or someone you care about may be suffering from depression?

An estimated one out of 20 Americans suffer from depression each year, with twice as many women experiencing depression than men. Depression can be biologically based, just like diabetes, asthma or heart disease, and it affects your whole body. Extreme stress may also play a role in the development of depression. Contrary to what many believe, depression is not “all in your head” – though it does affect the chemical balance and nerve receptors in your brain. Depression takes a toll on the entire body and changes your thinking and affects your physical health as well.

There is good news. Depression is treatable and help is available. You do not have to go through this by yourself.

Types of Depression

Depression takes many different forms. Symptoms may vary depending on the type of depression. Here are the major types of depression:

  • Major depression: Interferes with your ability to complete daily tasks, such as working, sleeping, eating and enjoying fun activities for at least a two-week period.
  • Dysthymic Disorder: Symptoms are not as severe as major depression, but they can keep you from feeling well and may last up to two years or more. 
  • Bipolar Disorder (manic depression): Characterized by high and low mood swings. Sometimes these mood swings can occur very fast, but most often they will occur over weeks.
  • Post-partum Depression: Occurs in women who have recently given birth and often interferes with a mother’s ability to bond with her baby. It is similar to major depression and usually presents in the first few months after delivery. 

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of depression vary from person to person. The earlier you recognize the signs of depression and seek help, the better. Remember, the first step to defeating depression is recognizing it. Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of depression:

  • A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling "slowed down" 
  • Sleep problems (insomnia, oversleeping, early morning waking)  
  • Eating problems (loss of appetite or weight, weight gain)  
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions 
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness  
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, a suicide attempt  
  • Recurring aches and pains that don't respond to medical treatment

Most of us will experience some of these symptoms at some point in life. If you experience five or more of these symptoms for two weeks or longer, however, you should seek help from a professional.

Treatment Works

Treatment for depression usually includes prescription antidepressant medication. Taken correctly, this medicine can help control symptoms. You should plan to see your doctor once a month for at least three months after starting antidepressant medication. Take all medications as prescribed. Call your doctor immediately if you have any problems.

It may be six to eight weeks before you notice an improvement in your symptoms. It’s important to talk with your doctor about your progress. This helps your doctor evaluate your response to treatment. Even if you start feeling better sooner, don't stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor. Staying on your medication will lower the risk of relapse and the return of symptoms.

Antidepressants alone are not a “cure” for depression – they simply control the symptoms of depression. The best treatment plans include both medication and therapy to help you develop better skills to cope with the ups and downs of life.

Supportive counseling can help ease the pain of depression and address the negative feelings that accompany it. Often, counseling will include cognitive therapy to help you develop positive life goals, address any negative and unrealistic expectations, and teach problem-solving skills. 

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, help is available. You can start by: