Severe Depression: 'Hidden' Health Issue Battled by Late Actor/Comedian Robin Williams

First Posted: Aug 12, 2014 12:14 PM EDT

Dealing with a bad day? Many of us who've experienced the heartache of a break-up, lost job or the passing of a loved one know exactly what it's like to feel that sinking in our stomach that accompanies unpleasant news. We might even use the word "depressed" to describe our mood. Yet depression is characterized by so much more: it's a chronic illness. 

Statistics show that an estimated one in 10 U.S. adults regularly battle with some form of depression. The most common types are major depression, also known as clinical depression, and chronic depression, or dysthymia. However, there are other types with more unique signs and symptoms--all which require specialized treatment and recovery plans.

Many types of depression interfere with an individual's ability to physically function, along with emotional and cognitive issues. For instance, a patient dealing with a major depressive disorder may simply be unable to get out of bed for work; the thought of getting on the subway is too exhausting, provokes anxiety and unmanageable responsibility.

Unlike temporary bouts of sadness or unrest, major depressive disorder or chronic depression doesn't go away over the span of a day, week or even a month. It's likely to last much longer at up to two years or more.

Clinically diagnosing depression also remains quite complicated. The American Psychiatric Association states that five or more of the following symptoms must be present for a continuous period of two weeks or more to meet these guidelines: a sad mood, loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, fluctuation in weight, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, inappropriate guilt, difficulty with concentration, as well as repeated thoughts of death. However, health officials have found that some types may not fit into certain categories so easily. 

Many who deal with depression are also at an increased risk of suicide. The beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams who suffered from severe depression allegedly committed suicide Monday due to asphyxiation. Though he had spent time in rehab as of July, police found Williams unconscious in his home around noon in Tiburon, California, near San Francisco.

Findings show that depression carries a high risk of suicide. Statistics from 2009 found that suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 37,000 suicides. One million people also attempted suicide that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Those diagnosed with depression can receive individualized psychotherapy, which involves a structured conversation with a trained counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist. Antidepressants may also be included to treat mild to moderate forms of depression.

More severe types may involve the above regimen along with hospital stay or potentially electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) that is sometimes used as an option in cases of unresolved depression.

If you or a loved one is suffering from possible symptoms or signs of this potentially deadly health problem, don't wait. Get help now.

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Psych Central Helpline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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