Depression can be a frightening and debilitating illness. It can make it hard to sleep, eat or concentrate. People with depression often feel worthless, guilty and hopeless. They don’t enjoy things they used to like and they may even think about death or suicide. It is important to know that these dark feelings are not normal. If you or someone you know is struggling, encourage them to get help from a mental health professional and to stick with their treatment plan.
What causes depression isn’t fully understood, but researchers know that there are a combination of factors. Chemical changes in the brain, such as an imbalance of neurotransmitters, play a role. Hormones also seem to be involved. They can change during pregnancy and the weeks or months after birth (postpartum depression), with thyroid problems, due to menopause or as a side effect of some medications.
Psychological and social factors can also contribute to depression. For example, someone who is isolated because of a lack of family or friends, who has little or no support at work or who lives in difficult economic circumstances may be more vulnerable to depression. Having a close relative who has depression can also increase the chances of developing it. Depression can be triggered by a significant event, such as a relationship breakdown or a physical illness. It is also common for stress or traumatic events to trigger depression in people who are already at risk.
People with depression are often reluctant to seek help. But depression is a treatable medical condition that can be effectively managed with psychotherapy, drugs and/or lifestyle changes. Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy or counseling, is a powerful tool for treating depression and it usually includes one-to-one sessions with a trained therapist. It can be done face to face, over the phone or through a video conferencing app. In addition to talking therapy, a doctor can prescribe medicines called antidepressants, which are thought to correct the imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain that causes depression.
In addition to medication, some patients find it helpful to try dietary supplements or exercise programs, and to take steps to relax. It is also important to eat regularly and not skip meals and to get enough sleep. It is also important to try to refocus attention on what you can control and not dwelling on what you cannot, such as the fact that you are depressed.
If a person is having thoughts of suicide, it’s important to act quickly. Call 911 or the local emergency number in your area, contact a crisis center, or text TALK to 741741 for a confidential suicide prevention hotline.