If you’re feeling blue, you’re not alone. A recent study by the World Health Organizations and the Harvard Medical School found that 9.6 percent of Americans suffer from depression or bipolar disorder – the highest rate of the 14 nations surveyed. This confirms the figures quoted by the National Institute of Mental Health, which states that “Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults or about 9.5% of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.” A study by the Australian Government (where depression rates are similar to that in the US) stated that everyone will at some time in their life be affected by depression – their own or someone else’s.
People are not seeking treatment for depression
Depression is especially problematic because many people refuse to seek treatment for it. It is estimated that 80% of depressed people are not currently having any treatment for it. Why? Because of the stigma attached to depression, and the fact that people think they should be able to snap themselves out of it. 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness, and 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help.
Peoples’ reticence to acknowledge and seek treatment for depression is especially prevalent at work. Because of the stigma attached to depression, workers fear bringing up their depression, for fear that it will negatively impact their chances for advancement. The article states:
“Previous research has found that the rate of depression in the workplace is as high as 30% (almost twice the rate of the population as a whole). The present study reported that a majority of the workers who suffer from depression said there was a stigma attached to the illness, even when their treatments succeeded in alleviating symptoms. For example, only 41% of the employees felt they could acknowledge their illness and still get ahead in their careers, the researchers said.”
Depression and Children
One disturbing trend in depression in this country is the growing rates of childhood depression. Harvard University recently reported that the rate of increase of depression among children is 23% per year. In an ongoing National Institute of Mental Health study, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine revealed that children experience the same symptoms of depression often found in adults, and with the same severity. Children are more depressed than ever before, prompting a major Surgeon General report on children’s mental health. According to the National Mental Health Association, one in three American children suffers from depression.
This will undoubedtly be a great concern to parents. How can you tell if your child is depressed? In a great article on this subject, you’ll find a list of symptoms, along with these words of advice:
“It’s not unusual for children to feel down in the dumps from time to time. Knowing this, how can parents tell normal fluctuations in mood apart from serious depression? The answer is in the duration of the depressive behavior. According to “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General,” children who are depressed experience depressive episodes that last on average from seven to nine months, although some child development experts say depressive behaviors lasting beyond two weeks warrant further investigation.”
The high cost of depression
Depression results in more absenteeism than almost any other physical disorder. It costs employers more than US$51 billion per year in absenteeism and lost productivity, not including high medical and pharmaceutical bills. The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the second largest killer after heart disease by 2020 — and studies show depression is a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease.
Causes of Depression
Short-term depression can be caused by loss or trauma. Chronic or life-long depression is caused by trauma in childhood which includes: emotional, physical or sexual abuse; yelling or threats of abuse; neglect (even two parents working); criticism; inappropriate or unclear expectations; maternal separation; conflict in the family; divorce; family addiction; violence in the family, neighborhood or TV; racism and poverty.
There may be a genetic basis to some depression. But even if a genetic propensity exists it must be triggered by some traumatic or stressful event. As the article states:
“The latest research has added to the growing body of data which confirms that on-going depression has its origins in childhood trauma, and in particular in a failure of relationships early in life over which the child has no control.”
Effective Depression Recovery
Long-term recovery from depression ultimately requires addressing the underlying relationship causes of depression, not simply symptoms such as chemical imbalance and depressive thoughts. This is why healing both the relationship environment and the whole person is vital in preventing relapse.
It’s important for people to understand the real causes of depression so that they don’t feel inadequate for not having been cured of it through treatments they went through in the past. Medication is a great help to some, but not to all, depression sufferers. In fact, studies show that antidepressants work for 35 to 45% of the depressed population. Most doctors advise a combination of therapy and antidepressants.
Good relationships are key to recovery from depression. Studies show that relationships with partners, carers, teachers, co-workers and a supportive social network results in physical and emotional healing, happiness and life satisfaction, and prevents isolation and loneliness, major factors in depressive illness.
In their book, Creating Optimism: A Proven, Seven-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, authors Bob Murray, PhD, and Alicia Fortinberry, MS, explain why good relationships in all aspects of life are so essential to our health and mood, and show how to create fully supportive connections with other people.
“We humans are group animals, like dogs and birds,” says Dr. Murray, “and our ability to relate to other humans is our strongest survival mechanism. Without that ability we become prone to illness, depression, low self-esteem, and unfulfilling or possibly failed careers. Shared beliefs and rituals are vital to our spirituality. In short, relationships are central to everything that makes life worth living.”
The key skill for recovery from depression seems to be this: learning how to create relationships that meet needs not met in childhood. Many people are helped by finding a safe, supportive and non-judgemental group environment in which they can process life issues.
Other practices that help people deal with depression are:
- Moderate and even gentle exercise.
- Meditation, prayer and relaxation exercises.
- Spending time in nature and with pets.
- Experiencing an ongoing environment that is free from trauma and supportive so that the body and the brain can heal and develop.