Depression – What is It?


Depression is a medical condition that can cause sadness, hopelessness, low energy and other symptoms. It can be treated with medicines, counseling or a combination of both. Depression is the most common mental illness and can affect people of all ages. It is more common in women than men. People who have a family history of depression are more likely to develop it themselves.

It is not clear why some people get depressed and others don’t. It is well known that severe depression increases the risk of having another episode later in life. The most common causes of depression are a combination of chronic stress, loss or abuse and genetics. Some people are at greater risk for depression than others, such as people who have had a serious psychological trauma or a major physical illness.

People with depression may feel sad, anxious or guilty. They may have trouble concentrating or making decisions. Some people with depression have suicidal thoughts. It is important to tell a doctor about these feelings and to get treatment right away. People who are having suicidal thoughts should call a crisis hotline, such as 988 or the local number in their area or text TALK to 741741 to talk with a trained crisis counselor. It is also important to remove any weapons from the house and to stay with the person until professional help arrives.

Everyone who experiences symptoms of depression should see a health care provider to be evaluated and diagnosed. The health care provider will ask questions about the symptoms, including when they started and how long they last. The provider will also check for other reasons that could cause the symptoms, such as a thyroid problem or a vitamin deficiency.

A diagnosis of depression requires a physical exam, an interview and sometimes lab tests. Depression can be confused with other conditions, such as a viral infection or certain medications, so it is important to see a health care provider to rule out these possibilities.

Some people with depression benefit from psychotherapy (talk therapy) with a trained mental health professional. Other people find that medicines improve their symptoms. Some of these medicines act on the brain to increase levels of certain chemicals, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. They can help reduce feelings of sadness and anxiety or help with sleeping. Many people also need to change some of their lifestyle habits. They should eat regular meals, get enough sleep and exercise regularly. They should avoid alcohol, illegal drugs and caffeine. They should also try to be around people who make them happy. Depression can be very isolating, but people who are depressed should try to reach out to friends, family and spiritual advisers. Depression can be hard to talk about, but it is worth it. If a loved one has thoughts of suicide, it is important to call 911 or the local emergency number and speak with a crisis counselor. People who have a family member who has had depression can help by being supportive.