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What is depression?

We have all heard the term “depression” used frequently in our daily lives. “Maybe mom is depressed.” “I don’t know why she just doesn’t snap out of it!” How many times do you hear someone categorize someone else (or maybe you have even categorized yourself) as “depressed”? “I’m just a little depressed today.”

What is the difference between depression as a transitory mood versus depression as a more chronic illness?

We all experience variations in mood – the blues, disappointments, feeling a little down, or experience deep grief following the loss of someone you love (loss to death, a move, or the end of a relationship). But a severe or prolonged sadness that interferes with your ability to go to work, feel pleasure, to enjoy your children or even get out of bed in the morning is not just the blues. It is a physical illness that results from biochemical imbalances in the brain. True clinical depression is a severe sadness and hopelessness that doesn’t go away and makes normal activities impossible. It involves the whole person - the body, mood, thoughts and behavior. This sadness can make if very difficult to care for yourself or your children, or even to work at your job. It affects a person’s eating and sleeping habits; how we feel about the things we used to care about and even about ourselves. Without treatment, symptoms can last for months or years.

Depression is considered a mental and physical illness because it appears that individuals who suffer from depression have physical changes in their brains. First, people who suffer from depression appear to have lower than normal levels of an important brain neurotransmitter (brain chemical) called SEROTONIN. Insufficient levels of serotonin, sometimes combined with decreased levels of nonepinephrine, result in feelings of fatigue, mental sluggishness, sadness, and worthlessness. Research has also indicated that people who suffer from depression have structural changes in the hippocampus, a small part of the brain vital to the storage of memories, but scientists don’t know why these differences exist.

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