Depression is a mental illness that can have a devastating impact on your life. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can cause a wide range of symptoms. If left untreated, depression can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair, and may even be fatal. Depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a character flaw and most people who suffer from it can get better with treatment.
The causes of depression vary, but there are some things that make you more likely to develop it. For example, your risk is higher if you have a close relative with depression or other mood disorders. Depression can also be triggered by a chemical imbalance in parts of your brain that control your moods, thoughts, and behavior. Hormonal changes can also trigger depression in women, especially during pregnancy and the weeks or months after delivery (postpartum), as well as during perimenopause or menopause.
Stressful events, such as the death of a loved one, a relationship breakup, or chronic illnesses can also trigger depression. So can a lack of social support or a problem with sleeping. Some medications, such as steroids or antidepressants, can also cause depression or worsen it.
Symptoms of depression can look very different for each person, and they can last a long time — up to years. Some people describe their depression as a feeling of emptiness or being in a dark pit, while others feel angry and restless. Some people have a hard time expressing their emotions, and use alcohol or drugs to cope with depression. Depression can also cause physical problems, such as a headache, tight chest, or digestive problems.
Depression is very common, but it can be difficult to recognize. The good news is that depression can be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. The earlier you seek help, the more quickly and effectively you’ll recover.
If you have a friend or family member who seems depressed, it’s important to support them in ways that are nonjudgmental and nonstigmatizing. You can offer to talk with them about how they’re feeling, and you can encourage them to see a doctor or therapist for diagnosis and treatment. You can also join a mental health support group, like BetterHelp, to connect with other people who are suffering from depression and get advice from a professional.