Major depressive disorder, also called major depression, is experienced by around 7% of people. From the time of onset of adolescence, women are 150% to 300% more likely to experience a major depressive episode than men are. Major depression is characterised by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. It is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person’s lifetime, but more often, it recurs throughout a person’s life.

People are diagnosed with major Depressive Disorder if they have at least five depressive symptoms over a two week period, where at least one of the symptoms needs to be sadness / depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure. So yes, you can actually be depressed without being sad!

Depressive symptoms include the following, and need to occur most of the time and nearly every day:

  • Sadness/depressed mood
  • Anhedonia/loss of interest or pleasure interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
  • Significant weight loss (not due to dieting) or significant reduction in appetite, or significant weight gain
  • Insomnia (struggling to fall asleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping for too many hours)
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation (this cannot only be subjective and needs to have been observed by others)
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt or feelings of worthlessness
    nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
  • Reduction in concentration or increase in indecision
  • Recurrent suicidal ideation or thoughts of death, or an actual suicide attempt without

If there has been any sort of manic or hypomanic episode together with the major depressive disorder symptoms then the person would rather be diagnosed with Bipolar Mood Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder is an especially crippling condition that impacts drastically on a person’s quality of life and ability to function in various areas of their lives. It can lead to loss of employment, loss of relationships and friendships and even loss of life. It needs to be treated as soon as possible.

Major Depressive Disorder is a Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) condition in South Africa, which means that if you are on a medical aid then (and irrespective of the quality of your medical aid plan) they need to grant you up to 15 outpatient psychotherapy sessions (at their normal rate).


How do I get help for myself or my loved one?

The first step in getting help is finding out whether you have a problem. A trained clinical psychologist can effectively perform a professional assessment, which will identify whether you have any problem areas, and will recommend the treatment most appropriate for you if necessary.

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