Depression – What is It?


Depression is more than just feeling down or having a bad day. It is a long-lasting illness that causes extreme feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness. It can make it hard to think, work, eat, sleep, or enjoy life. It can also lead to thoughts of suicide. Depression is one of the most treatable illnesses. Most people get better with medicine, counseling, or a combination.

Many things can cause depression, including a family history of it, genetics, brain chemical imbalances, and certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease or some medications used for other health problems. Depression often happens after a major life event, such as bereavement, loss of a job, or illness. Other times, it starts slowly over time.

A doctor will diagnose depression by talking to you about your symptoms and doing a physical exam. A health care professional will also ask about your family history, what’s been happening in your life, and if you have any other mental or physical health problems. They may also order blood tests to rule out a medical problem, such as a thyroid disorder or vitamin deficiency, that could be causing your depression-like symptoms.

Sometimes a child will be diagnosed with depression, especially if they have been feeling sad for more than two weeks or have a hard time sleeping and eating. It’s important to talk to your health care provider if you think your child has depression. Children who have depression can’t always tell you what’s wrong, but they may act differently. They may cry more, withdraw from friends or family members, or have trouble at school. They might act angry or irritable and have trouble concentrating. They may lose interest in things they usually like to do, such as playing or studying. It’s also important to look for other signs of depression, such as a change in appetite and weight loss or gain; changes in sleeping habits; difficulty thinking or concentrating; numbness or tingling; or suicidal thoughts or attempts.

The most common treatment for depression is medicines called antidepressants. These can change the chemicals in your brain that affect mood, but it takes a few months to start working. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can also be helpful. Your health care professional can recommend different types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you how to identify and change unhealthy thoughts and behaviors; family and couple’s therapy; or problem-solving therapy. Some patients also benefit from meditation or other mind-body techniques, such as yoga. In rare cases, in-hospital treatment is needed for severe depression. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or your local suicide crisis center right away. Stay with someone you trust, and stay in touch with them. Also, try to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep. Stay away from drugs and alcohol, which can make depression worse. Get support from your family, friends, and spiritual advisor. Stay in contact with your doctor and get treatment as soon as you notice any symptoms.