by Lauren Weinand, M.D.

Depressed mood is a commonly experienced emotion that refers to feelings of discouragement, sadness, and apathy.

If these feelings become distressing or disabling, however, a person might be experiencing a more serious condition known as major depression. Major depression is characterized by depressed mood or lack of motivation for most of the day for about two weeks or longer. Additional symptoms include sleep disturbances, loss of interest in daily activities, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, decreased energy, decreased ability to concentrate, appetite or weight changes, slowing of speech and movements, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

More than 1 in 5 Americans experience major depression in their lifetimes, with the disease most often beginning in a person’s mid-20s. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to experience the disease and women with a history with the condition are also at a higher risk of experiencing depression during and after pregnancy.

Though it’s most common for adults to have major depression, children, adolescents, and the elderly can also experience it. However, the effects are less obvious in youth and the elderly, and is not a natural result of aging.

Risk factors include childhood and adulthood trauma, parental loss, low educational attainment, teenage childbearing, marital instability, loss of or unstable employment, grief, little social support and chronic behavioral and physical health conditions.

Major depression is often a recurring and lifelong disease. Left untreated, major depressive episodes last for approximately six months. They recur in one out of two people within six months, and in more than eight out of 10 people within a decade.

Prevention and treatment are important given the chronic and potentially disabling nature of the condition. Medication and therapy are commonly prescribed. Somatic treatments are used, curbing depression via electrical stimulation of the brain (e.g. electroconvulsive therapy and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation).

Other management strategies include personal wellness and stress-reduction practices such as eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise, mindfulness exercises and yoga. A strong support system of friends, family, and community resources can also make a big difference.

If you believe you or somebody else you know may be living from major depression, make an appointment to see your doctor. Doing so could change or even save a life.

Compass Health Network in El Dorado Springs provides dental and behavioral health care services and accepts most private insurance plans, along with Medicare and Medicaid. Compass Health Network also offers a cost-effective, income-based fee scale for those who qualify. To make an appointment call 844-853-8937.