What is Depression?

If you’re going through hell, keep going! WINSTON CHURCHILL

Winston certainly knew a thing or too about emotional hell. He was a long-term sufferer of what he called the “black dog” of depression, yet he was also a high achiever and has left an indelible stamp on world history. We remember him for his achievements, not for his mental illness.

Depression is such a common disorder that primary care practitioners estimate that up to 80% of ailments for which treatment is sought have an emotional component, of which depression forms a significant proportion.

The term “depression” is used so commonly in everyday speech that the true meaning of the word in a medical sense is no longer clear. We often say we feel “depressed” because the pair of earrings we had our eye on for weeks was sold when we fronted up with our charged-up credit card. Or we may feel “depressed” because a friend has gone out of town and won’t be able to help us with a term paper. What we really mean in these cases is that we feel disappointed, or sad, or angry.

So what exactly is depression?

Depression is not a transitory sadness that is eased by buying a new MP3 player or even going on a holiday. Because depression is such a common illness, it is important to understand the difference between a normal reaction to an unpleasant event, such as a bereavement, a job loss, or a friend moving interstate, and the more serious and pervasive experience of clinical depression.

Many famous people throughout history have suffered from depression. Winston Churchill is just one well-known example, as was Abraham Lincoln, who was forced to postpone his own wedding due to a bout of severe depression. It is unfortunate that these aspects of their personality remain largely hidden when it comes to celebrating their achievements on the world stage. Perhaps it would be of far more use to society as a whole to highlight just what these great men achieved despite their unfortunate brush with mental illness.

It is estimated that one in five people will suffer from depression at some point in the lives. And in the Western world at least, this figure is on the rise. General signs of depression include too much or too little sleep, overeating or undereating, feelings of helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness. There may also be thoughts of suicide.

Luckily, help for sufferers of depression in available. In future articles, we will discuss the symptoms and a range of treatments of depression.

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