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Coming to Terms With Depression

By Brenda Conaway
WebMD Feature

You’ve just been diagnosed with depression. You may feel as if you are the only person in the world with this problem. That kind of feeling is just one symptom of the illness.

Of course, you aren’t alone. Nearly 17 million adults in the U.S. suffer from depression. It affects people of all ages, races, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic classes – even those who seem to have everything in life.

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Terry Bradshaw, a Hall of Fame quarterback and well-known sportscaster, struggled for years with crying jags and breakdowns before medication and therapy helped relieve his pain. British comedian and actor Hugh Laurie, best known in the U.S. as TV’s Dr. House, realized he was depressed during a charity stock car race when he felt utterly bored even as cars crashed all around him. The famed author of the Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling, dealt with crushing depression and suicidal thoughts after a failed marriage in her 20s.

Major depression is a medical illness, just like heart disease or diabetes. You didn’t ask for it, you don’t deserve it, and nothing you did caused it. But you can get relief. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 80% to 90% of people who are diagnosed with major depression can be treated effectively.

You may wonder how to move forward with such a difficult and painful illness weighing you down. This article can help you understand how depression affects you and provides tips to help with your recovery.

What Triggers Depression

Health experts don’t know exactly what causes depression, although a person’s genetics, environment, and brain chemistry probably all come into play. “Stress early in life, such as neglect or childhood trauma, can also set you up for becoming depressed in response to later stress,” says Jon Allen, PhD, senior staff psychologist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.

Often, major life events such as job loss or the breakup of a marriage, drug or alcohol abuse, or chronic stress triggers an episode of depression. “If someone has had an episode of major depression, it’s likely that stressful life events occurred prior to the depression,” Allen says.

“How you perceive these events, and how you feel about yourself in relation to them, can have a big impact on your vulnerability for depression,” he says. “Feelings of failure and loss and feeling trapped in a difficult situation can lead to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.”

What Depression Feels Like

“There is nothing worse than depression,” says Anthony Rothschild, MD, professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Psychopharmacologic Research and Treatment at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “I’ve had patients who were cancer survivors tell me that they would take a recurrence of cancer over a relapse of depression.”

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