We all throw around the word depression with the same nonchalance with which we get a cup of coffee. Youre depressed because the Buckeyes lost. Youre depressed because Sex and the City ended. Youre depressed because your doughnut-addicted friend wears size four jeans.
But when you say these things, you're actually referring to daily ups and downs--not more global or long-term alterations in mood. Clinical depression is not a momentary sadness but a persistent feeling of despair triggered by an imbalance of chemicals in your brain. Yes, its a physical disease--and one with potentially lethal outcomes. Suicide is one of the top four killers of Americans between the ages of 15 and 44. While the elderly overall are less depressed (and happier) than their younger counterparts, white men over 65 have a suicide rate five times higher than that of the general population. Women try more often, but men succeed more often (if you know someone with suicidal tendencies, get them help now).
We have to start thinking of depression the way we would any so‑called tangible health problem, such as heart disease or cancer. Catch it early, and youve got a good shot at curing it. Let the problem linger, and you'll increase the chances that your brother-in-law is going to be drafting your eulogy pretty darn soon. The myth about depression and other mental conditions is that they're "soft" diseases, that you can will yourself out of them, that all you have to do is suck it up and be happy, dagummit. But depression isn't a "mental" disease--you can't control it, as you can your moods; it's a "chemical" disease, no less a threat to your health than HIV/AIDS or diabetes.
Depression is associated with all kinds of life-altering symptoms, such as lowered mood, lack of self-esteem, lack of interest in sex, weight changes, sleep problems, and fatigue over a period of two or more weeks. Depression suppresses your immune responses so that you're more vulnerable to infections. It increases inflammation in your body (your CRP levelsa marker of inflammationmore than double, in fact). It increases your chances of cardiac disease (maybe through disrupting your automatic nervous system), which means that you have a higher chance of developing lethal arrhythmias. And if that's not enough to make you feel less than marvelous, we don't know what is.
This material came to you from YOU: Being Beautiful, by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D.