Depression affects about 16% of persons living in the United States. In Australia, one in four women and one in eight men will suffer from depression. About twice as many women as men report or receive treatment for clinical depression, though this imbalance is shrinking over the course of recent history; this difference seems to completely disappear after the age of 50–55.
According to the World Health Organization, clinical depression is the leading cause of disability in many countries, and is expected to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide (after heart disease) by the year 2020. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 17 million adult Americans suffer from depression during any 1-year period. Depression is a real illness and carries with it a high cost in terms of relationship problems, family suffering, and lost work productivity. Over many decades psychologists have worked to understand, explain and assist persons with clinical depression. They have developed theories and therapy strategies which have proved helpful.
Depressed people tend to feel helpless and hopeless and to blame themselves for having these feelings. People who are depressed may become overwhelmed, exhausted and may stop participating in their routine activities. They may withdraw from family and friends and some may even have thoughts of death or suicide. People develop a psychological disorder in different ways. Early in life we develop cognitive “mindsets” or schemas which determine our patterns of behavior. These cognitive schemas often include dysfunctional, irrational beliefs which cause us to think and behave in negative ways.
Negative thinking and behavior can lead to serious psychological problems such as clinical depression and anxiety disorders. It is important to remember that negative feelings such as deep sadness, fear and inappropriate guilt are actually created by dysfunctional thinking and behavior. Some depression is caused by changes in the body’s chemistry that influence mood and thought processes. Biological factors can also cause depression. In other cases, depression is a sign that certain mental and emotional aspects of a person’s life are out of balance.
There are many causes for depression. Early experiences such as the death of a parent, abandonment or rejection, neglect, chronic illness, and physical, psychological, or sexual abuse can also increase the likelihood of depression later in life. Life experiences including job loss, poverty, financial difficulties, gambling addiction, long periods of unemployment, the loss of a spouse or other family member, rape, divorce or the end of a committed relationship, involuntary celibacy, inability to have proper sex or premature ejaculation or other traumatic events may trigger depression. Alcohol and other drugs can have a negative effect on mood, and misuse of alcohol can all play a major role in the length and severity of depression. Anyone who has these conditions or experiences should seek treatment.