Clinical depression, the most common mental health problem, affects nearly 20 million Americans each year. And that number is probably significantly higher because, nationally, fewer than half of those suffering from clinical depression seek treatment.

What is depression?
Depression is a medical illness, and like many other illnesses, it can be managed effectively with the appropriate treatment. It is more than being sad or discouraged, which are normal feelings that typically pass in a few days. Depression is a persistent condition that can make daily activities difficult, affecting your physical health and well-being as well as those around you. Its severity can range from a mild, depressive mood that is experienced almost daily to persistently intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or significant loss of interest and pleasure.

What causes depression?
The exact causes of depression are not fully understood. What we do know is that depression is a medical condition, not a character or personality flaw. The most common conditions that can accompany depression are:
• Chemical imbalances in the brain.
• Certain medical illnesses.
• Certain medications.
• Alcohol and/or drug use.
• Stressful life events.

Who’s at risk?
Though anyone can suffer from depression, individuals with other medical conditions are at greater risk. Depression affects as many as one-third of all patients with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.

How can you recognize symptoms of clinical depression? Look for these signs:
• Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
• Sleeping too much or too little, and waking up in the middle of the night or early morning.
• Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased appetite and weight gain.
• Loss of pleasure and interest in activities once enjoyed.
• Restlessness or irritability.
• Persistent physical symptoms such as chronic pain or digestive disorders that do not respond to treatment.
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.
• Fatigue or loss of energy.
• Feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless.
• Thoughts of suicide or death.

If you have five or more of these symptoms for two weeks or more, you could have clinical depression and should see your doctor or a qualified mental health professional for help.
Again, remember that clinical depression is treatable. Treatment usually includes antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

Of course, treatment depends on the severity of the condition. In some cases of mild to moderate depression, increasing your physical activity, taking up a new hobby, or joining a social group or club may help alleviate some of your depression symptoms.

And remember, there’s no shame in seeking help.