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Key Facts about Depression

written by: Nicole Etolen • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/16/2011

More than 20 million people in the United States suffer from some form of depression, ranging from mild “blues" to cripplingly severe despair. Knowing the facts about depression can help remove some of the mystery and allow you to gain a better understanding of the condition.

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    Depression is not just feeling sad and it's not something that can always go away on it's own. Learn the facts to better cope with feelings of depression in your own life or in the life of a loved one.

    1. Approximately 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older suffers from depression each year, with 6.7 percent suffering from major depressive disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Although depression can occur at any age, the average onset is around age 30.

    2. Depression is the third leading cause of disease burden in the world and the leading cause of disability in first-world nations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    3. Children, especially those with other behavioral disorders such as ADHD, are also at risk of depression. In pre-adolescent children, depression strikes both genders equally. However, in cases of adolescent-onset depression, girls outnumber boys two to one, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center.

    4. Women are twice as likely to suffer from depression then men. The exact reason is unknown, but hormones may play a large role. Social causes, such as role strain from taking on too many responsibilities, abuse (women are more likely than men to be abused both physically and sexually) and body image issues may also contribute to the higher prevalence of depression in women.

    5. Strong evidence suggests that depression may be hereditary. The World Health Organization explains that children and siblings of depressed patients have a 10 to 15 percent risk of developing depression, versus the 1 to 2 percent overall risk for the general population. In addition, 50 to 75 percent of children with two depressed parents are at risk of developing depression.

    6. Although symptoms of depression vary from person to person, common diagnostic symptoms include: persistent sadness, decreased energy levels, appetite changes, loss of interest in daily activities, difficulty concentrating, irritability, changes in sex drive, and feelings of helplessness or guilt.

    7. Depression often goes hand-in-hand with other disorders, most commonly anxiety disorder or substance abuse. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America explains that many people with depression suffered from an anxiety disorder earlier in life, although no evidence exists proving that one disorder causes the other. In those with substance abuse problems and depression, it is often difficult to determine which came first. Depression can lead to substance abuse and vice-versa.

    8. Depression manifests in many different forms, each with its own clinical designation. Clinical depression is typically classified as major depression, dysthymia, or bipolar disorder. Major depression strikes hard, presents with at least five diagnostic symptoms and last a minimum of two weeks. Dysthymia, a chronic form of depression, lasts significantly longer or frequently recurs. Patients with bipolar disorder suffer from both depression and periods of manic behavior.

    9. Depression can have a profound physical effect on some patients, causing unexplained aches and pains. In some cases, the unexplained pain may be the only symptom of depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. Conditions that cause chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia and diabetes, can cause depression, as the constant overall unwell feeling can wear on the mood.

    10. Highly creative people may be more likely to suffer depression, according to several research studies performed over the last two decades. In “Creativity and Mood: Towards a Model of Cognitive Mediation" from the July, 2007 issue of The Journal of Creative Behavior, author Mark A. Papworth explains that, out of 104 students tested, those with artistic skills displayed a lower mood and were more likely to have a distorted view of their own work.

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    National Institute of Mental Health: The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America

    CDC: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: October, 1, 2010

    University of Maryland Medical Center: Depression

    Help Guide: Depression in Women

    Anxiety Disorders Association of America: Depression

    World Health Organization: Mental Health and Substance Abuse

    Mayo Clinic: Is There a Link Between Pain and Depression

    Papworth, Mark. “Creativity and Mood: Towards a Model of Cognitive Mediation" The Journal of Creative Behavior. Creative Education Foundation, July 2007.