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Are you depressed, feeling alone, and sure nobody else understands what you're going through? Depression may be more common than you think — and treatment more likely to be successful.

On the surface, my good friend Jenny had everything people are supposed to aspire to in life — she describes her loving, sexy, husband, two wonderful children, a degree, a job that was supposed to be intellectually stimulating, a decent apartment, and supportive friends who stuck by her. That was part of what made her feel so alone, and so guilty. Everything looked great "on paper", so why couldn't she "just be happy"?

She knew all too well, but that didn't help any. "Yeah," she said. "I knew I was depressed. I'd read the diagnostic criteria and obviously met them. I just wasn't sure if it was postpartum depression or major depressive disorder, because I'd felt this way since before I got pregnant. I knew there were treatment options too, and what they were, I just didn't think they'd work on me. I just didn't think anything could ever get better. I thought I was gonna lose everything. I know that's part of the symptomatic picture of clinical depression, but knowing you're depressed doesn't actually stop you from being depressed."

Depression: An alarmingly common illness

Like many depressed people, Jenny felt desperately alone — even, and sometimes especially, among people. She wasn't — more than 300 million people of all ages and backgrounds, all across the globe, suffer from depression just like Jenny did. That includes over 16 million Americans struggling with major depressive disorder right now. Nearly eight in every 100 people in the US live with depression at any one time, in fact, and that includes almost double the number of women (10.4 percent) than men (5.5 percent). 

Although some groups appear to be more likely to be labeled depression than others, with Asian Americans least likely to end up with the diagnosis than other ethnic groups, adolescents slightly more likely than older people to suffer from depression, and wealthier people are less likely than poorer people to become depressed, depression can strike anyone. Depression is, in fact, so common that it is the leading cause of disability, both globally and in the United States. 

There's more than one depression-related diagnosis, however. If you don't have major depressive disorder, you're still not alone:

  • Up to one in seven women may suffer from postpartum depression, depression that strikes within the first year after giving birth. 
  • Persistent depressive disorder, a kind of depression that lasts at least two years, is thought to affect about 1.5 percent of the population but may be grossly underdiagnosed. 
  • Atypical depression, or "depression with atypical features" is an add-on to the diagnosis of major depressive disorder that strikes up to 36 percent of people with that diagnosis. 
  • Rates of seasonal affective disorder, which typically strikes in winter, differ depending on your location — in the colder and more dreary parts of the US, it's thought to affect almost 10 percent of people. 
Many people who suffer from depression are simultaneously battling another illness, mental or physical. Over 10 percent of cancer patients, 31 percent of those who had a stroke, and almost 20 percent of people suffering from acute coronary disease have been found to be depressed, for instance. At least 50 percent of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder additionally have an anxiety disorder. 

Treatment for depression: What you need to know

If one thing is certain, it's that you're not alone. Depression can rob anyone — regardless of their age, ethnic group, circumstances, beliefs, sex, gender, or general physical health — of the quality of life they deserve. While many depressed people who visit the doctor actually do so because of (often related) physical complaints rather than to specifically seek help for depression, and depression is thought to still be under-diagnosed, help is available. Many people who are ready to ask for it initially visit their family doctor, as Jenny eventually ended up doing — which is a perfectly good way to begin accessing treatment — but you can also go straight to a psychologist or psychiatrist. 

Once diagnosed, treatment should be the next step. Forty-four percent of those diagnosed with depression in the US receive a combination of antidepressants and therapy, while six percent opt for antidepressants only, and 13 percent solely rely on talk therapy or other contact with a health professional. A striking 37 percent receive no treatment at all, however. 

These people are missing out, as research also indicates that:

  • Up to sixty percent of all depressed people found relief from their symptoms within six to eight weeks after starting antidepressants. 
  • Only up to 40 percent of those taking a placebo noticed any improvement. 
  • While about half of those who don't take antidepressants have another bout of depression within two years, that figure came down to 23 percent for those taking antidepressants. 
  • Antidepressants are especially important in people with moderate to severe depression. 
  • While the success rates of therapy — the main type being cognitive behavioral therapy — are harder to quantify, there is research to show that up to half of depressed patients who attend CBT experience "sudden gains". Cognitive behavioral therapy especially reduces negative thinking, and lowers the chance a patient will relapse. 

In conclusion

Depression-related statistics are, let's face it, pretty depressing in themselves — but if there's one story they tell, it's that you're not alone. They also tell you that depression is highly treatable, and that relief is within reach weeks after you start treatment. 

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