eating disorders help & support mental health news & info contact us pale reflections home RSS feed go login help register


What is depression?

Depression is a debilitating illness in which the sufferer experiences extreme lows and feelings of sadness, often coupled with other symptoms. There are many different types of depression and some sufferers experience highs as well as lows (which may be diagnosed as bipolar disorder).

As time goes by the unhappiness can develop into feelings of numbness or "nothingness". The sufferer may not necessarily feel sad all the time, but the feeling of unhappiness is the pre-dominant one.

Depression tends to go hand-in-hand with an eating disorder because of the low self-esteem and negative feelings associated with it. Sometimes the depression precedes the eating disorder and other times it is triggered or made worse by it.

There are many different types of depression:
  • Major or clinical depression – the most serious type of depression which can lead to suicide if untreated
  • Bipolar or manic depression – the individual has mood swings ranging from elation to extreme sadness
  • Post natal depression – tends to occur from about 2 weeks after giving birth and can last years
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) – depression that generally coincides with the approach of winter
  • Dysthymia – a less severe form of depression, sufferers will still feel run down most of the time
  • Cyclothymia – a milder depression with the sufferer alternating between periods of mania and depression
  • Existential depression – brought on by a crisis of meaning/importance in a person’s life

Facts and statistics

According to the Healing From Depression organization, approximately 15 million people in the United States have a depressive illness. This is a staggering 6% of the population. The figures are even higher among specific populations, with 5 to 10% of patients under primary care suffering from clinical depression and 10 to 14% of hospital inpatients, the chronically ill and confined elderly also affected.

Each year in the U.S., there are at least 30,000 suicides, and over 90% of these individuals have diagnosable psychiatric illnesses; the most common diagnoses are unipolar or bipolar major depression, seen in about 50% of cases (Simpson & Jamison, Primary Psychiatry, May 1997).
What does depression feel like?

The exact feelings depend on the type of depression involved and it can feel slightly different for each person. It has been said that depression is something you are more aware of once it has gone. It is like a constant weight pressing down on the sufferer’s shoulders and is always there lurking in the background.

Contrary to popular opinion, many people with depression do not sit around and cry all day. After a while, when the depression has long since taken hold, the sufferer may simply feel numb inside and be unable to cry or express their emotions properly.


The most common symptoms of depression are listed below. Individuals may suffer from a few of these symptoms but are unlikely to experience them all.
  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Pessimism, indifference
  • Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

What is the treatment?

Depression is very treatable, either through medication (anti-depressants), therapy, or preferably both.

According to the Depression Alliance, there are three main classes of anti-depressant drug, and these are Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (M.A.O.I.), Tricyclic Anti-depressants (T.C.A.) and Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (S.S.R.I.). Anti-depressants usually take at least a couple of weeks to start working.

There are many different types of therapy available, including cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and problem solving therapy.