Although it’s difficult to estimate the number of people in the United States who suffer from the disease of depression, it is likely the most prevalent disease there is. There are many reasons that people don’t seek treatment from a medical doctor, with one of the most common being that the individual themselves may not be aware that they are depressed. Some people have been chronically depressed for so long, perhaps even since childhood, that they think that facets of depression are traits of their personality.
Mental health disorders also carry a stigma that causes many to be embarrassed to seek treatment, although this is changing. National campaigns and advertisements for antidepressants may make people feel like they are not alone and treatment is possible, but there are still people who fear that asking for help with depression may affect their social status or even limit them in choice of careers.
Most people are aware that clinical depression is more than just “feeling blue.” It is persistent feeling of hopelessness, sadness, or worthlessness that persists for two or more weeks. There may or may not have been a precipitating event (like a death in the family or a job loss). Depressed individuals may suffer from impaired sex drive, altered sleep schedules, difficulty in relationships, difficulty in finding joy in things that used to matter to them, and more disturbingly, are about 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
The cause of depression is usually multi-factorial, but one of the most common findings in autopsies of depressed individuals are lowered levels of the chemicals dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These are neurotransmitters that literally control how your brain operates, including your limbic system, from which happy or sad thoughts can arise. That’s why anti-depressants are helpful: They elevate these chemicals, making the individual more responsive to treatments like talk or cognitive therapy, in which they are able to discuss their life stressors and learn strategies to deal with them.
It’s been established for some time that depressed people may miss more days from work or school or even move more slowly than other people, and now we know a concrete reason why: depressed individuals literally perceive the passage of time differently from those who have normal levels of neurotransmitters.
Although the passage of time is subjective, even though actual time is not, we now know that for depressed patients, time seems to slow down, and in some instances, even come to a stand still. This is a huge finding for those who study and treat depressed patients.
Psychologists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) collected data from relevant studies on the subject to perform a meta-analysis, and the results were very conclusive that time passes differently for people going through depression. Scientists say this can explain why people may feel they are isolated, no longer fit in, or have trouble getting organized to get to work or an event. Scientists Sven Thönes and Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel of the Institute of Psychology at Mainz University looked at the results from 16 individual studies in which 433 depressed subjects and 485 non-depressed control subjects participated.
“Psychiatrists and psychologists in hospitals and private practices repeatedly report that depressed patients feel that time only creeps forward slowly or is passing in slow motion. We found strong indicators that in depressed individuals the subjective feeling of the passage of time differs from the ability to assess the actual duration of external events.”
While more research is needed in this area to see how symptoms and this phenomenon are correlated, it’s an important finding because it helps doctors understand certain characteristics that patients are displaying and helps patients understand why they are experiencing those symptoms.