Depression is a whole-body illness. It involves the body, mood, and thoughts. Depression affects the way you eat and sleep. It also can affect the way you feel about yourself and things. It's not the same as being unhappy or in a “blue” mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. When you have depression, you can’t “pull yourself together” and get better. Treatment is often needed and many times crucial to recovery.
Depression has different forms, just like many other illnesses. The most common types of depressive disorders include:
Major depression. This condition is a mixture of symptoms that affect your ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy life. It can put you out of action for awhile. These episodes of depression can happen once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.
Dysthymia. This condition is a long-term (chronic) depressed mood and other symptoms that are not as severe or extensive as those in major depression. These symptoms can still keep you from functioning at "full steam" or from feeling good. People with dysthymia sometimes also have major depressive episodes.
Bipolar disorder. This long-term (chronic) condition includes cycles of extreme lows (depression) and extreme highs (hypomania or mania).
There is no clear cause of depression. Experts think it happens because of chemical problems in the brain. Many factors can play a role in depression. These include environmental, mental health, physical, and inherited factors.
Some types of depression seem to run in families. But no genes have yet been linked to depression. Depression occurs in people of all ages. Young people to older adults can suffer from depression that is serious and that greatly affects their life.
Women have depression about twice as often as men. Many hormonal factors may add to the increased rate of depression in women. This includes menstrual cycle changes, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pregnancy, miscarriage, postpartum period, perimenopause, and menopause. Many women also deal with additional stresses such as responsibilities both at work and home, single parenthood, and caring for both children and aging parents.
Many women are especially at risk after giving birth to a baby. Women have hormonal and physical changes on top of the added responsibility of caring for a baby. These can lead to postpartum depression in some women. The “baby blues" are common in new mothers and last a week or 2. A full-blown depressive episode is not normal and needs treatment.
These are the most common symptoms of depression. But each person may have slightly different symptoms. Symptoms may include:
Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years. The correct treatment can help most people who suffer from depression.
Depression can occur alone or with other health problems such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. It can also happen with other mental health disorders such as substance abuse or anxiety disorders. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment is important to recovery.
A diagnosis is made after a careful mental health exam and health history done by a psychiatrist or other mental health provider.
Generally, depressive disorders may be treated with 1 or a combination of the following:
Medicine. Many different medicines are available. But it often takes 4 to 6 weeks to feel the full effects of antidepressants. It’s important to keep taking the medicine, even if it doesn’t seem to be working at first. It’s also important to talk with your healthcare provider before stopping. Most medicines need to be decreased over a period of time, rather than stopped all at once. This prevents uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Some people have to switch medicines or add medicines to get results.
Psychotherapy. This treatment is most often cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal therapy. It focuses on changing the distorted views you have of yourself and your environment. It helps you work to improve your interpersonal relationship skills, and to identify and manage stress in your life.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). This treatment may be used in people with severe, life-threatening depression that has not responded to medicines. An electrical current is passed through the brain, triggering a seizure. For unknown reasons, the seizures help to restore the normal balance of chemicals in the brain and ease symptoms.
You can also do things to help yourself. Depressive disorders can make you feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Such negative thoughts and feelings may make you feel like giving up. It's important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression. They often don't accurately reflect true circumstances. Negative thinking fades as treatment starts to take effect, often in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, if you think you have depression, consider the following:
Get help. If you think you may be depressed, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
If you have thoughts of harming yourself, seek help right away. Ask your provider, family, or friends for help. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 800-273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The call is free and confidential.
Depression is a whole-body illness. This means that it involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It is not the same as being unhappy or in a “blue” mood. Treatment is often needed.
There is no clear cause of depression, but healthcare providers think it’s a result of chemical problems in the brain. Some types of depression seem to run in families, but no genes have yet been linked to depression.
Women have depression about twice as often as men. Many hormonal factors may play a role in the increased rate of depression in women.
Depression may be diagnosed after a careful mental health exam by a a psychiatrist or other mental health provider.
Depression is most often treated with medicine, psychotherapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy. It can also be a combination of medicine and therapy.
If you are with a person who has suicidal thoughts or a suicide plan, take their comments seriously and seek help right away.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.