According to recent research from San Diego State University, more Americans are suffering from depression than ever before. Unfortunately, many of these people may not even
realize they’re depressed. That’s a problem, because depression doesn’t get better on its own. Without treatment, depression usually only gets worse — and failing to achieve full remission of your symptoms will only leave you more vulnerable to recurrent episodes of depression.
Besides, depression can have serious, long-term, and even deadly consequences for your health, family life, and career — consequences like addiction, reckless behavior, fights with loved ones, poor academic or professional performance, and even suicide. Treatment can help you feel better, and help you avoid the consequences of leaving your depression untreated.
Untreated Depression Damages Your Brain
You probably knew that depression causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, self-loathing, lethargy, and even irritability, anger, and the inability to enjoy things like you used to. You may even know that depression can cause a host of physical and cognitive symptoms like inability to concentrate, body aches, and insomnia. But you probably didn’t know that depression actually causes damage to your brain.
It’s true. Depression causes shrinkage and a decrease of activity in key areas of the brain, including the anterior cingulate, which is implicated in conflict resolution; the hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory; and the prefrontal cortex, which has to do with making plans and taking action to realize them. The longer untreated depression continues, the more severe this brain damage becomes. As time passes, you can completely lose your ability to solve problems, make decisions, set priorities, or even concentrate on reading a book.
But with treatment, you can prevent much of the brain damage associated with depression. Your brain can even heal from the damage it may have sustained during an episode of depression. There’s more — the more complete your remission, the less likely you are to experience future episodes of depression. Residual symptoms — which occur when depression is almost, but not quite, completely gone — increase your risk of succumbing to a future depressive episode, perhaps because they are a sign that depression-related brain changes have not completely healed. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor about treatments like Abilify that can help you achieve a complete remission of depression symptoms.
Depression Could Hurt Your Relationships
Depression can cause irritability, anger, and even violent outbursts. Men are more vulnerable to these symptoms, but they can occur in women, too. Lashing out at loved ones won’t help nurture your relationships with them. But that’s not the only way depression undermines your relationships.
Many people with depression lose the ability to take joy in the things they once enjoyed, and most just want to be left alone — social withdrawal is a common consequence of untreated depression. Even if you don’t withdraw from friends and loved ones, you’re going to feel too drained and depleted yourself to be there for them in the way that they need you to be. Friends and loved ones may tire of offering emotional support when your feelings of sadness never seem to improve.
Depression Could Harm Your Career
Even if depression doesn’t stop you from making it to work altogether, it can make it hard for you to perform well once you’re there. Your coworkers could find you irritable and crabby, and you’ll have a hard time concentrating to complete your work. Untreated depression costs the American economy about $43.7 billion in lost productivity, absenteeism, and other costs each year.
You Could Wind Up Hurting Yourself
While not all people with depression experience suicidal thoughts or feelings, suicide is a very real possibility. When you become deeply mired in depression, ending your life might seem like the only way out. But that’s not the only way depression could end up hurting you.
Many people who suffer from untreated depression become so cavalier about their health and safety that they end up taking unnecessary and dangerous risks — anything from driving without a seatbelt to having unsafe sex or using illegal drugs. Addiction is a common consequence of untreated depression. You might find yourself abusing drugs and alcohol in an attempt to get some relief from your symptoms. Before you know it, you will have lost control over your substance abuse.
Many people cope with feelings of depression by cutting or burning themselves. The pain of self-injury releases endorphins, which can bring about temporary relief from depressive feelings. And while most people who self-harm don’t intend to do serious damage to themselves, accidental death or serious injury can occur as a result of these behaviors.
If you’re suffering from depression, get help. Don’t wait for depression to go away by itself. Treatment can help you feel like your old self again, and can protect you from experiencing depression again in the future.