Depression – What is It?


Depression is a serious mental illness that affects people of all ages and from all walks of life. It can cause many different symptoms, and it can be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses or from temporary feelings like sadness or irritability. A health professional can diagnose depression by conducting a thorough clinical evaluation, including a physical exam and a mental health exam. Medications can help with depression. These include drugs that increase levels of serotonin, the chemical in the brain that helps nerve cells communicate with each other. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as escitalopram (Lexapro) and fluoxetine (Prozac).

Biologically, the risk of depression may be tied to genes or how the brain processes emotions. The combination of genes and environmental factors also contributes to the development of depression. Having a family history of depression or having a history of childhood trauma can also raise the chances that a person will experience depression.

Some of the most common symptoms of depression include sadness, irritability or a general sense of hopelessness. Many people feel uninterested in their daily activities, and may even lose interest in hobbies or social interactions. In more severe cases, depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Depression can be especially challenging for young children and teens, who might struggle to express themselves or explain what they’re feeling. Their symptoms might include clinginess or anger, poor performance in school, apathy or suicidal thoughts, aches and pains, poor appetite, using recreational drugs or alcohol, weight loss or gain, sleep disturbances and a change in thinking.

In some cases, depression is accompanied by a medical condition, such as heart disease or cancer, and may need to be treated with medication and psychotherapy. It is very important to seek a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, especially if you think someone might be suicidal.

Encourage those you care about to get help for their depression. It is important for them to know that depression is not a character flaw or weakness and that it can often get better with medication, therapy or both. It is also important for them to know that their loved ones are there to support them and help them through the hard times. This support can come from family, friends and community groups, employee assistance programs or faith-based organizations. In addition, many people with depression find that a regular exercise routine and healthy diet can help. Getting enough good-quality sleep is also critical.