Depression Symptoms and Treatment


Depression is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. Symptoms usually respond well to psychotherapy (talk therapy) and antidepressants. It is important to get treatment early to prevent a more severe depression.

Depression often is triggered by stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, a major accident, trauma, a job loss or divorce. A person can also become depressed by chronic pain or other medical conditions, including heart disease, cancer, thyroid problems and head injuries. Certain medications can trigger depression as a side effect. Substance abuse, especially alcohol and recreational drugs, can make depression worse or cause it to come on suddenly.

Although researchers do not know exactly what causes depression, they have identified several factors that increase a person’s risk for developing the disorder. Some experts believe that changes in brain chemistry, such as an imbalance of neurotransmitters, may be to blame. Other researchers think that genetics, environmental stresses and the way people react to stress can contribute to depression.

When people are depressed, they typically have difficulty concentrating, remembering and thinking clearly. They may feel sad, irritable, guilty and worthless. They may not want to eat or sleep. They may withdraw from friends and family or become easily agitated. Depression also can lead to feelings of hopelessness or a lack of future possibilities. Some people who are severely depressed may have thoughts of suicide or attempt it. If you are worried about someone, talk with a health care professional or a friend or family member who is not depressed. You can also contact a minister or spiritual leader in your faith community.

The good news is that about 80% to 90% of people who receive treatment gain relief from their symptoms. It is important to stick with your treatment plan, even if you are feeling better. If you stop taking your medication, your symptoms will probably return.

Psychotherapy may be used alone or in combination with antidepressants. Various types of psychotherapy are available, such as supportive counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps you recognize and change negative, unhelpful ways of thinking. It also teaches you skills to manage your mood and behavior.

Interpersonal psychotherapy focuses on improving problematic relationships and circumstances that contribute to your depression. Psychodynamic therapy, which is more portrayed in movies and pop culture, may help you discover how your depression is related to unresolved conflicts or wounds from the past.

Behavioral activation therapy is a form of psychotherapy that teaches you how to include more pleasant activities in your life and to avoid isolation. This type of therapy combines goal setting with motivational interviewing to encourage you to get out of bed, take a shower and go to work or school. Often, you start with small goals and build up to more complex challenges as you gain confidence and motivation. You may also benefit from group therapy, a support group or an online program.