Depression – Causes, Symptoms and Treatments


Depression is a mood disorder that affects your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Symptoms include sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities and problems with thinking and memory. You may also have suicidal thoughts or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Depression can cause serious, lasting harm to your health. Fortunately, it is treatable.

Most people with depression feel better with psychotherapy and medicine. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, teaches you to recognize unhealthy emotions and beliefs and learn healthier ways to think and behave. Medicine changes brain chemistry to lift your mood. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for these medicines to work. Sometimes, it takes several different medicines to find the right one for you. You and your doctor should monitor you closely for side effects, which usually improve with time.

You’re more likely to get depressed if you have a family history of the condition or if you’ve experienced severe emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Other factors that increase your risk of depression include certain medical conditions, such as chronic illness, sleep or thyroid problems, pain, and alcohol or drug abuse. Hormonal changes can trigger depression, especially in women during pregnancy or the weeks or months after delivery, and after menopause. Depression is twice as common in females as males.

Scientists still don’t know what causes depression. They suspect that brain chemistry is involved, but it isn’t as simple as having too few or too many chemicals in nerve cells. Researchers believe that a combination of things is to blame, including genetics, past experiences, life events, chemical imbalances and the way your body responds to stress.

Getting treatment early is important because it can help prevent depression from getting worse. If you have mild symptoms, ask your health care provider about getting a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in treating depression. You can also ask your doctor if you can take part in a clinical trial of new treatments for depression, such as brain scans or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Clinical trials provide important new knowledge so that others with the same condition can be treated more effectively. Talk to your doctor about whether this might be a good option for you. You can find information about NIMH-supported clinical trials by visiting our Clinical Trials Search page. Or call 1-800-227-2334 to speak with someone who can refer you to a trial or other helpful resources. You can also call the suicide prevention hotline (988 or TALK in Michigan) for help and support, 24 hours a day. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing, dial your preferred relay service then 988. If you or a family member is having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number or text TALK to 741741. If you see a person having a suicide crisis, stay with them until help arrives. You can also contact your local crisis center for more information and links to community resources.