After years of working hard at your job each day, you’ve just been laid off. You feel sad, tired and emotionally drained. The last thing you feel like doing is getting out of bed in the morning. This sadness is a natural part of being human and feeling this way for a few days is normal. In fact, many people hear people say “I’m depressed” in their day-to-day life when they are talking about that low feeling that we can all have from time to time. But if these sad feelings last for more than a couple of weeks and you start noticing that it’s affecting your life in a big way, you may be suffering from an illness called depression. Depression, also known as clinical or major depression, is a mood disorder that will affect one in eight Canadians at some point in their lives. It changes the way people feel, leaving them with mental and physical symptoms for long periods of time. It can look quite different from person to person.
Depression can be triggered by a life event such as the loss of a job, the end of a relationship or the loss of a loved one, or other life stresses like a major deadline, moving to a new city or having a baby. Sometimes it seems not to be triggered by anything at all.
One of the most important things to remember about depression is that people who have it can’t just “snap out of it” or make it go away. It’s a real illness, and the leading cause of suicide.
Who does it affect? Depression can affect anybody; young or old, rich or poor, man or woman. While depression can affect anyone, at anytime, it does seem to strike most often when a person is going through changes. Changes can be negative life changes such as the loss of a loved one or a job, regular life changes such as starting university or a big move, or physical changes such as hormonal changes or the onset of an illness.
Because depression can be linked to change, certain groups of people are at risk more often than others:
Youth: More than a quarter of a million Canadian youth—6.5% of people between 15 and 24—experience major depression each year. Depression can be hard to recognize in youth because parents and caregivers often mistake a teen’s mood swings and irritability for normal adolescence, rather than depression. Studies have shown that gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered youth have higher rates of major depression.
Older adults: Around 7% of seniors have some symptoms of depression. This can be brought on by the loss of a spouse, a shrinking circle of friends or the onset of an illness. It’s also much more common among seniors living in care homes or who have dementia. Depression in people 65 and over appears to be less common than in younger groups, but researchers aren’t sure if this is a real difference or an issue with the research questions. It’s likely that depression is at least somewhat under-recognized in seniors. Some symptoms like changes in sleep or activity levels may be mistaken as signs of aging instead of depression.
Women: Depression is diagnosed twice as much in women as it is in men. Some reasons for this difference include life-cycle changes, hormonal changes, higher rates of childhood abuse or relationship violence, and social pressures. Women are usually more comfortable seeking help for their problems than men which likely means that depression in men may be highly under-reported. Men generally feel emotionally numb or angry when they are depressed whereas women usually feel more emotional.
People with chronic illness: About one third of people with a prolonged physical illness like diabetes, heart disease or a mental illness other than depression, experience depression. This can be because a long term illness can lower your quality of life, leading to depression.
People with substance use problems: There is a direct link between depression and problem substance use. Many people who are experiencing depression turn to drugs or alcohol for comfort. Overuse of substances can actually add to depression in some people. This is because some substances like alcohol, heroin and prescription sleeping pills lower brain activity, making you feel more depressed. Even drugs that stimulate your brain like cocaine and speed can make you more depressed after other effects wear off. Other factors, like family history, trauma or other life circumstances may make a person vulnerable to both alcohol/drug problems and depression.