The recent suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams highlights the importance of addressing depression and other mood disorders. Even though the people closest to him knew he was suffering from depression—most of them thought he "had it under control."
"It's unfortunate that most people would rather ignore their feelings or suffer in silence than reach out for help," says Sarah Prom, Senior Director of Solution Delivery for VITAL WorkLife. "People who ask for help are usually seen as happier and healthier than people who think getting help is a sign of weakness."
Sadness is a normal part of life, particularly if you're struggling with a recent loss, financial problems or relationship difficulties. As the grief subsides or the issues are resolved, the sadness should go away. If it doesn't, a genuine depression may set in.
Depression is a serious illness affecting over 100 million people worldwide. It can have damaging effects on emotions, behavior, physical health and appearance, job performance and the ability to handle everyday decisions and pressures.
The good news is that depression is one of the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.
There are three major types of depression:
- Situational Depression: A short-term depression related to current life circumstances.
- Major Depression: A depression with more severe symptoms lasting a longer period of time. An episode can occur only once in a person's lifetime, but it's more typical to have several episodes.
- Persistent Depression: A chronic, low-grade depression that lasts more than two years.
Many factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression. If other people in your family suffer from depression, there may be a genetic component making it more likely that stress or a sad event will trigger depression.
If you experienced childhood trauma, have personality traits such as low self-esteem or negative thinking or are regularly abusing alcohol or drugs, you may be at greater risk for depression.
There are two types of major depression with fairly unique causes:
- Postpartum depression or the "Baby Blues" is a form of depression some women experience after giving birth and is likely related to a combination of hormonal changes and exhaustion.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that occurs during winter months when there is less sunlight. Treatment for SAD may include light therapy, psychotherapy and medications.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
- Irritability or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are unable to function as a result of depression symptoms, you should seek immediate medical help.
When you're sad or under stress, you may be able to prevent depression from taking hold by paying extra attention to diet, exercise, getting enough sleep—and making time for connecting with people. Even if going out seems like the last thing you want to do, making a date to walk or meet with a friend can help.
"Staying home and trying to think through problems may seem logical, but it rarely lifts your mood," says Prom. "If you or someone you love seems to be overly sad, isolated or falling into depression, call us at 1.800.383.1908."
Evaluating Your Symptoms: Ask an EAP Counselor For Help
There's no limit to the number of times you or your family members can call. Simply call 1.800.383.1908—any time of the day or night—for a free, confidential consultation.
Our master's- and doctorate-level counselors can help you evaluate any issues you or your family members are facing over the phone. We can also schedule free face-to-face counseling at a time and place that's convenient for you.
"We encourage you to call whenever you're feeling sad, angry, discouraged or overwhelmed," notes Prom. "Sometimes a sympathetic ear, a change in perspective or tips on how to meet a life challenge more effectively can help people resolve issues that might lead to depression."
Online Work & Life Resources: Free, Unlimited Access
On the VITAL WorkLife member website, you'll find hundreds of helpful articles and links to resources, including the following articles on depression:
- Dealing With Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips (4-part series)
- Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms
- Antidepressants: Selecting One That's Right for You
- Atypical Depression
- Cutting and Self-Injury
- Depression and Women: Diagnosis and Treatment (3-part series)