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Categories > Mental and Emotional Health > Depression

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Midlife ‘blahs’ or dangerous depression?

» 1 in 8 women

» The midlife factor

Symptoms of depression

Feelings that everyone has on occasion can signal depression if they last:

  • sadness
  • mood swings
  • bouts of crying
  • anxiety
  • pessimism
  • loss of appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • sleeping too much
  • trouble concentrating
  • reduced sense of well-being
  • tiredness or low energy
  • loss of interest in other people or activities

What may put you at risk

The causes of depression vary from one person to another. Any of the following could contribute:

  • stressful life changes
  • susceptibility to biochemical imbalance
  • family history of depression
  • pessimistic outlook on life
  • excessive alcohol or drug use
  • painful childhood experiences

Effective help is available

Most depressed persons can find relief through one or more of the following treatments:

  • antidepressant drugs
  • regular exercise, preferably outdoors (especially for mild cases)
  • psychotherapy
  • electroconvulsive therapy (for serious cases only)

Quick quiz: Could you be depressed?

Circle the response that best describes how you are feeling now:

  1. A. I feel miserable and sad.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  2. B. I find it easy to do the things I used to do.
    1. Yes, definitely.
    2. Yes, sometimes.
    3. No, not much.
    4. No, not at all.
  3. C. I get a very frightened or panicky feeling for apparently no reason at all.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  4. D. I have weeping spells or feel like I want to cry.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  5. E. I still enjoy the things I used to.
    1. Yes, definitely.
    2. Yes, sometimes.
    3. No, not much.
    4. No, not at all.
  6. F. I am restless and can’t keep still.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  7. G. I get off to sleep easily without sleeping tablets.
    1. Yes, definitely.
    2. Yes, sometimes.
    3. No, not much.
    4. No, not at all.
  8. H. I feel anxious when I go out of the house on my own.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  9. I. I have lost interest in things.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  10. J. I get tired for no reason.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  11. K. I am more irritable than usual.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.
  12. L. I wake up early and then sleep badly for the rest of the night.
    1. No, not at all.
    2. No, not much.
    3. Yes, sometimes.
    4. Yes, definitely.

Finding your score

The number of each answer you selected is your score for that question. For example, if you answered “2) Yes, sometimes,” give yourself 2 points. Add your points for each question to get your overall score.

What your score means

The higher, the more likely you are to have a problem that needs a doctor’s attention. Most people with depression who take this quiz, called the Wakefield Self-Report Questionnaire, score above 14 points. Be aware that the quiz measures symptoms—not depression itself. A low score doesn’t rule out a medical problem.

Feeling “blue” from time to time is a normal reaction to stress. But when that down-in-the-dumps feeling lasts for days or weeks, it could be a symptom of depression, a serious medical condition.

Because it can be hard to tell the difference between true depression and an everyday case of the blues, women sometimes don’t realize when they’ve become clinically ill and need medical help.

To complicate the picture, depressive illness doesn’t always show up as the blues. Sometimes it seems more like the “blahs.” The main sign could be difficulty sleeping or a variety of other symptoms (see “Symptoms of depression”).

So how do you know if you’ve become depressed? The ultimate answer is to see your doctor. But good first steps are to understand the nature of depression and to be aware of the warning signs in your own life.

1 in 8 women

The first thing to understand is that depression is quite common. One woman in eight suffers from depression at some point in life.

You should also know that symptoms vary from mild to severe. In a mild case, the main symptoms tend to be anxiety and mood swings. A woman with mild depression may find that she cries frequently for no apparent reason.

A more serious case is likely to involve physical symptoms like tiredness and lack of appetite, as well as loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable.

Severe cases tend to bring negative personal feelings, like guilt or a sense of worthlessness. The sufferer may withdraw from contact with other people, and may even consider suicide.

The next thing you should understand is that depression can have many causes. Usually, it’s hard to point to a single, obvious source of the illness.

There are biological causes, like an underactive thyroid or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Family history also can play a role in depression.

Then there are social and psychological factors, usually life events that leave us feeling vulnerable, such as a significant loss, financial problems, illness or other stressful situations.

The midlife factor

What does all this say about menopause, a stressful time for many women? Common experiences of menopause (trouble sleeping, for instance) can lead to mood swings, which can seem like depressive illness. It’s also true that stressful events of midlife—grown children leaving home or the death of one’s parents—can contribute to true depression.

Also, there is growing scientific evidence that the loss of estrogen during menopause makes women prone to depression.

Standard treatments for depression at any point in life are psychotherapy, which can help resolve emotional issues, and antidepressant medications, designed to fix chemical imbalances. Regular exercise also may relieve some symptoms of mild depression.

If you don’t “feel like yourself,” the best course is to consult your doctor. Whether the underlying cause is menopause or depressive illness, today’s treatments are highly effective, and you can start feeling better in a few weeks.


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