Depression is a serious mood disorder that can affect your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It is not something you can just “get over”. Depression is a medical illness and needs to be treated by a health professional. It is one of the most treatable mental illnesses and it can be overcome with psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both.
Symptoms of depression can be difficult to recognize, even for those who have them. They can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness or guilt, difficulty thinking clearly, a loss of interest in usual activities, fatigue, a change in sleeping patterns and/or weight changes. If you think you are depressed, it is important to see your doctor right away and discuss what you’re feeling.
A recurrent low mood and other symptoms are the hallmarks of depression. Your doctor will conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation, which may involve an interview and physical exam. In addition, a blood test can help determine whether depression is caused by a physical problem such as a thyroid condition or vitamin deficiency (reversing the medical cause would alleviate depression-like symptoms).
Depression is the most common mental illness and is also one of the most treatable. Research shows that 80% to 90% of people with depression get better with treatment. Most people improve with psychotherapy or a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. Some alternative treatments can also be helpful, such as exercise programs and acupuncture.
The causes of depression are not completely understood, but there is clear evidence that brain chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, are involved. These chemical messengers communicate with nerve cells and help regulate our emotions. Low levels of these chemicals may contribute to depression, but other factors also play a role. These include:
You are at higher risk for depression if you have certain medical conditions, including chronic pain, heart disease, stroke, cancer, Parkinson’s disease or a history of substance use. In addition, a head injury can trigger depression. A family history of depression is another risk factor.
Getting help for depression takes time and effort. You’ll need to work with your doctor or therapist to come up with a treatment plan that works best for you. Treatment plans can sometimes feel slow or frustrating, but it is worth the effort.
Support someone who is depressed by spending time with them and encouraging them to participate in a treatment program. Make sure they have transportation to therapy appointments and that they are taking their medicine as directed. Offer to accompany them to social or recreational events, such as a movie, concert or a meeting of a support group. Reassure them that depression will lift with time and treatment, and that it is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy to seek help.