Seek Help When Sadness Is Something More Serious
It’s natural to feel sad occasionally. You may feel a little depressed because of grief or stress or the change of seasons. But if the sadness persists, that’s depression. And depression is serious.
Why? Untreated depression can affect your body in a number of ways. You may gain weight, you may easily become irritable, and your sleep patterns may change, resulting in insomnia and fatigue. Depression can compromise your immune system and your cognition — you may have trouble making decisions. It can even constrict your blood vessels, raising your risk for stroke and heart attacks. It can increase your sensitivity to pain and your risk for abusing drugs and alcohol.
Unfortunately, depression isn’t all that uncommon. More than 7 percent of Americans have experienced a major depressive episode. And 35 percent of those go untreated.
Signs of Depression
So how do you distinguish between occasional feelings of sadness and depression? Here are the typical symptoms of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health:
• Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
• Decreased energy or fatigue
• Moving or talking more slowly
• Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
• Appetite and/or weight changes
• Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
• Aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems without a clear physical cause that do not ease even with treatment
Persistence is key. These kinds of symptoms that last more than two weeks and seemingly do not have a physiological cause
Are you at risk?
Typically, risk factors for depression include: a personal or family history of depression; major life changes, trauma or stress; and certain physical illnesses and medications.
Particularly in older adults, this last set of factors are significant. Depression often occurs along side other serious medical illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease among other conditions. These illnesses can also be exacerbated by depression, and sometimes the medications prescribed to treat them can contribute to depression.
Major life changes also disproportionately affect older Americans. Death of a spouse or retirement or loss of a job can trigger depression. But depression is not a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that most older adults are satisfied with their lives despite more health issues.
Who Can Help?
If you’re worried about depression, start by talking your primary care doctor. They can help you determine a course of treatment and if you need to see a specialist. Depression isn’t that unusual, and you shouldn’t let stigmas around the disease dissuade you from talking to your doctor. Get the help you need.