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The term depression is used to describe an emotion or a mood state, experienced by many people. Everyone has moments of feeling down or sad. But, on the whole these feelings do not last for very long. In contrast, people with severe depression are suffering from a serious illness. This illness affects not only their mood, but also a range of other normal bodily functions.

Depression can influence the way a person eats and sleeps, but most of all the condition impacts on the way individuals feel about themselves. Depression is not a phase, a passing mood or a state of mind that people imagine or cause themselves, but a mental illness. Those who suffer from this disorder should not be blamed for their feelings or frame of mind.

People with severe depression often feel sad, helpless, hopeless, and irritable and cannot snap out of these feelings. The persistence and severity of the emotions set depression apart from normal mood changes. Clinical depression is persistent and can severely affect an individual's ability to function normally. Depression can be devastating to a person's everyday life, including family relationships, friendships and the ability to work or go to school. If you suspect that you or a beloved one may suffer from depression, talk to your doctor without delay.

Diagnosing someone with clinical depression - the medical term used for condition - implies that the symptoms are severe enough to require treatment. There are several types of clinical depression. Every one of these types has distinct characteristics. They include: major or severe depression, dysthymia, double depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Depression is a major worldwide health problem, and places great demands on health and social services. Nearly one in ten adults may be suffering from depressive symptoms; depression is the greatest cause of problem disability across the world. The highest rates of depressive illness are found among people in their early twenties to mid forties.

About 12% of women suffer from clinical depression; almost double the rate of men (about 7%). One in four women, is likely to experience severe depression at some stage during her life. Yet, only about one fifth of women with depression receive the right treatment. Women are also more likely to suffer from other symptoms, such as anxiety, sleep disorders, panic attacks and eating disorders together with depression.

Depressive illness usually begins during adolescence or early adulthood. For many people it can take years for the illness to be diagnosed. This is possibly due to the fact that the general public does not consider depression to be an illness. As a result people with depression may not realise that they have a treatable illness or may be discouraged from seeking treatment, because they feel ashamed of their symptoms.

Many people suffer from depression for years without receiving a proper diagnosis or treatment.Yet depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses and an early diagnosis will improve the long-term outcome considerably as treatment can start early. 80% - 90% of people with depression respond well to treatment. Without treatment, the symptoms of depression can last for weeks, months or years, turning the condition into a chronic disorder. This greatly increases the risk of multiple episodes .

Depression is a long-term illness and needs long-term treatment. Some people seem to recover but then relapse. This is usually due because they feel better and therefore stop taking their medication. Staying on treatment can prevent relapse and the reappearance of symptoms.

Depression in older people often remains undetected or untreated. In ageing people, the signs of depression are much more likely to be dismissed as eccentricity or bad-temper. Depression can also be difficult to recognise in older people, because they may be confused or have problems concentrating. These symptoms are often mistaken for dementia, Alzheimer's disease or other disorders of the brain. Mood changes and signs of depression can also be caused by medicines for high blood pressure or heart disease.