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March 20, 2018  |  Login
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Like many other chronic illnesses, depression can be caused by a wide variety of factors and is characterized by several out of a long list of symptoms. It affects people of all ages, races, and nationalities and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is the most costly of all diseases, largely because it disables people who would otherwise be productive. It is estimated that 10 percent of the U.S. population experiences depression severe enough to require medical attention, with women twice as likely as men to develop depression.

A major depressive episode is diagnosed when a patient suffers from a combination of psychological and physical symptoms that are a significant change from the person's prior level of functioning. It requires more than just a sad mood for the diagnosis to be made. A major depressive episode can be devastating and often affects every aspect of a person's life. Beyond a sad mood, there is often great fatigue and apathy, an inability to enjoy once-pleasurable activities, disturbed sleep, increased or decreased appetite, and a low sex drive. Depression generally leaves its sufferers feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, irritable, or angry. Even a touch of the blues can impair the immune system, and serious cases often go hand-in-hand with other chronic illnesses. People with severe cases have constant thoughts of death and suicide. Depression can be deadly. Approximately one out of eight people will kill themselves during a major depressive episode.

Although it is often normal and healthy to experience sad moods in response to a trauma, such as the loss of a loved one, a major depressive episode is characterized by inappropriate sadness that persists or is out of proportion with its apparent cause. Clinical depression can further be categorized into unipolar depression, marked by recurring episodes of sadness, and bipolar depression, in which the sadness alternates with periods of elation and mania. Unipolar depression is by far the more common of the two. Both kinds of clinical depression can be caused by a number of factors, including constant tension and unresolved stress, genetics, chemical or hormonal imbalances, chronic illness, poor diet, food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and even inadequate sunlight.

If your depression is clearly reactive to stresses or events in your life, many of the following therapies may ease some of your discomfort and help you work your way through the source of your sadness. Professional counseling is also a good idea. If you suspect that you are clinically depressed, first consult a doctor to rule out any underlying illness (such as a thyroid problem), then see a psychologist or a psychiatrist for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Obviously, it is best to work with a doctor who embraces natural therapies and will work with you to find the cause of your depression. The suggestions here will support your therapy and will also point you toward possible causes or aggravating factors of your disorder.

Next: What are the Symptoms of Depression

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