Depression is a psychosomatic illness characterised by mood disturbance often without any apparent cause. It affects mood, thoughts, behaviour and physical condition. Sufferers cease experiencing pleasure and only feel sadness. According to the official definition, people experiencing feelings of sadness for 15 consecutive days or more are said to be suffering from depression. Depression can last weeks, months or years. The level of severity may be mild, moderate or severe and can even lead to suicide.
Please note that depression should not be confused with temporary periods of sadness following such events as the loss of a loved one.
Three million people are currently suffering from depression in France and 300 million worldwide, only quarter of whom are receiving treatment. An increase in the number of sufferers has been observed. The illness affects people of all ages from all social and professional backgrounds and is twice as prevalent among women. Groups most at risk are teenagers (one teenager in 20), young mothers (10 to 15% of women) and senior citizens (18%). People suffering from depression have an increased risk of committing suicide. Every year, this is responsible for 10,000 deaths in France and 800,000 deaths worldwide. Depression is the main cause of suicide, accounting for 70% of cases. Although the illness is more prevalent among women, more men choose to commit suicide.
Depression is associated with a long list of symptoms that vary from patient to patient. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the most common symptoms:
No single cause triggers depression. Causes differ from patient to patient and are sometimes not identifiable. The condition may be caused by social factors (exposure to stress, family breakdown, etc.) or genetic phenomena. Although there is no such thing as a depression gene, genetics can influence us. The risk of falling victim to the condition is higher if other family members are affected by it. Moreover, alcohol and other drugs can make people depressed while certain medicines can also cause depression and should therefore be avoided by anyone who has previously suffered from depression. Chronic diseases may also increase the likelihood of depression. In women, the illness may furthermore be caused by hormonal changes (during menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, etc.).
Several treatments are available. Medicines are often used in combination with psychotherapy. Anxiolytics or sedatives are used to calm anxiety while anti-depressants are used to treat depression. The latter take several weeks to take effect (between three to six weeks). Treatment is then continued for several months. When it is time to stop treatment, the dose is gradually reduced under medical supervision in order to prevent relapse. Physicians may also prescribe a preventive treatment. People suffering from other diseases should furthermore be aware that conditions such as epilepsy may incur a risk. Antidepressants may, for instance, cause epileptic fits.
Regardless of patients' specific circumstances, treatments must be strictly observed and regular medical follow-up is compulsory. It is essential that antidepressants and anxiolytics are not stopped suddenly. Instead, the dose should be reduced under medical supervision in order to wean the body off them. Pill dispensers are strongly recommendedto help patients keep up with their antidepressant, anxiolytic or sedative treatment.
Alongside medicines and counselling, other biological therapies are available whose efficacy has not yet been proven but which provide practitioners with useful tools. Here are some examples:
For further details of these methods, please visit the etat-depressif.com website (in French).