Major Depression, Part II

by Colleen Sullivan

At highest risk are individuals who have already experienced an espisode of major depression, have close relatives with severe depression, or who abuse alcohol or drugs.

Depression may strike any age group from young children to seniors with an average onset in the mid-twenties. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 4.4 percent of Americans (or 9.4 million) will develop major depression at some point in their life. Woman are two to three times more likely to develop depression than men.

Cause of Depression

Some individuals may be able to point at various life events and be certain they are the reasons for their depression. For others depression comes "out of the blue" with no apparant reason. Depression is an illness characterized by neurochemical abnormalities that can cause significant disability. The cause may be one or a combination of biological, genetic, chemical, psychological, social, developmental and environmental factors.

Heredity, brain chemistery, hormonal systems and sleep-wake controls are included in biological factors. Cognitive disorders, behavioral disorders stress and the trauma of life are psychological factors.

Time to Seek Help

Many depressed individuals do not realize they are seriously ill. They choose to blame themselves and "tough it out." They are not aware that depression may continue for many months or even years without proper treatment.

If the symptoms of depression have been present every day, for most of the days for period of two weeks it is time to seek help without delay. If thoughts of suicide are present it is an emergency. Seek help immediately.

Risks and Complications

Fifteen percent of those who are depressed kill themselves. Twice that many may attempt it. Suicide is a major and outstanding risk of major depression. Depression may also lead to or exacerbate substance abuse. Also depression complicates and interferes with the treatment of many illnesses from asthma and stroke to heart disease and cancer.


Treatment for major depression comes in many forms. For many, medication, psychotherapy, or both, are very effective. Psychotherapy alone is enough to relieve the symptoms in many cases of mild to moderate major depression.

Individuals respond differently to different types of therapy. If one fails they should not despair but go on to the next. One will work.

Anti-depressant drugs are effective in more than half of the cases of moderate to severe depression. Medication helps even more.

© Colleen Sullivan

Colleen Sullivan was a contributing editor to's Bi-Polar Disorder site.