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  • Depressive disorders cause tremendous pain, suffering and impairment. A large research study found that depression is as impairing as heart disease, and more impairing than other chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Depression can reduce a person's productivity at home or at work, may result in job loss and can disrupt relationships with family and friends. Although depression is one of the most common and treatable of disorders it is often overlooked and proper treatment is not received.

    How common is it?

    Studies of depression in the general population have found that from 10 to 25% of women and from 5 to 12% of men have experienced an episode of major depressive disorder at some time in their life. The prevalence of depression is unrelated to race, education or income. Depression can occur at any age, from childhood to late in life.

    Sometimes depression is a life threatening disorder. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 30,000 deaths per year. Among teenagers, suicide is the third leading cause of death.

    Causes of depression

    Many factors are involved in the cause of depression: 

    • genetics
    • stressful life events
    • biological factors
    • physical illness
    • medications
    • alcohol
    • childhood experiences

    These factors may differ for different individuals. Not everyone who has a parent with depression will develop depression. Nor will an upsetting life event universally trigger an episode of depression in everyone who experiences that life event. It is probably better to think about risk factors rather than causes for developing depression.

    Diagnosing depression