Depression can hit with the force of a tornado, tearing down lives and wrecking stability, but treatment is effective in four out of five cases.
It’s almost as prevalent these days as the common cold. Nearly everyone claims to have suffered it at some point in life. Children as young as 2 may develop it, as may mothers with newborns or men in the midst of life.
You guessed it: I’m talking about depression, the No. 1 mental health problem in America.
At any one time, more than 10 percent of the population is being treated for some form of depression. That means about 22 million people are spending millions of hours on therapists’ couches and popping millions of antidepressants daily. Little wonder that Elizabeth Wurtzel — beautiful, clever and for many years depressed — titled her best-selling treatment memoir Prozac Nation.
What Defines Depression?
Depression takes three main forms. The most severe is major depression, where the largest number of symptoms comes into play. Dysthymic depression is similarly chronic, but often the only symptom is an almost daily depressed mood that can last for years. Bipolar disorder is the third form, characterized by behavior that cycles between mania and depression. Mania may not look like depression to the untrained eye, but its high-energy symptoms are a kind of parody of happiness. Manics have delusions of grandeur, are excitable and voluble, never tire, seldom sleep, and have little need for food.
The curious thing about depression is that it can surface at any time in life. In recent years, physicians and therapists have been coming to terms with the fact that the threshold for depression has been getting lower and lower, in some instances starting in infancy. Childhood depression often begins with another disorder or emotional problem, such as Attention Deficit Disorder or hyperactivity, and then it literally evolves.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 2.5 percent of children and 8 percent of adolescents in America suffer from some form of clinical depression.
Dr. David Fassler, chairman of the Council on Children, Adolescence and their Families at the American Psychiatric Association, is the first to admit that his field has seen a revolution.