The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 17 million adult Americans suffer from depression in any given year. Many people are unaware that they have a problem that can be adequately addressed. This fact sheet answers questions about depression and focuses on how psychotherapy can help a depressed individual.
What distinguishes depression from occasional sadness?
Everyone experiences sadness or “blues” at times. Most people grieve after a traumatic life event, such as a significant illness, job loss, a death in the family, or divorce. These grieving feelings tend to fade on their own over time.
Depression develops when feelings of profound sadness or despair linger for at least two weeks or more and interfere with daily activities such as working, eating, and sleeping. Depressed people often feel helpless and hopeless, and they blame themselves for these feelings.
Some may have considered death or suicide. Depressed people may become overwhelmed and fatigued, and they may stop participating in certain daily tasks entirely. They may isolate themselves from family and friends.
What factors contribute to depression?
Changes in the chemistry of the body influence mood and thought processes, and biological factors have a role in some forms of depression. Furthermore, depression can accompany chronic and catastrophic illnesses such as heart disease or cancer.
However, for many people, depression first and mainly indicates that certain mental and emotional parts of a person’s life are out of balance. Significant life transitions and pressures, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, can contribute to depression.
Other, more subtle elements that contribute to a loss of identity or self-esteem may also play a role. Because the reasons for depression are not often obvious, the disease necessitates comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis by a competent mental health care practitioner.
Depression can be caused by situations over which an individual has little or no control. However, depression can also arise when people are unable to recognize that they have options and can affect change in their lives.