Depression isn’t just feeling down, it’s a serious mental illness that can affect your life in many ways. It can make it hard to think clearly, have energy, sleep well or enjoy the things you used to. Depression can also cause feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness that don’t go away. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may interfere with work, home life and relationships. Depression can be triggered by events, such as a serious illness or a loss, but it often starts long before these problems occur.
Depression can affect people of all ages, sexes and races. It can occur at any time in a person’s life, but it is more common in adults and older adults. Women are more likely to get depression than men. Depression can be a result of certain medical conditions, such as coronary heart disease, cancer or a chronic pain condition like arthritis. It can also be caused by a head injury, a thyroid problem or hormonal changes that happen with pregnancy and during menopause.
Scientists are working to understand what causes depression. They have found that specific changes in brain chemistry – including neurotransmitters, which are naturally occurring brain chemicals – can be involved in depression. These chemical changes appear to affect the activity of neurocircuits that control mood. It is also possible that some people are more prone to depression because of a genetic predisposition.
Other risk factors for depression include a history of abuse, living in unstable or unhealthy relationships and prolonged exposure to stressful situations at work or home. It’s also common for depression to run in families. Depression can also be a side effect of some medications, such as steroids and some antidepressants.
Having a family member or friend with depression can be very difficult. They can become more irritable, angry and argumentative. It’s important to encourage them to seek treatment, and keep in mind that the recovery process can take time. It’s especially important to help them when they have suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Depression is a treatable illness. There is no one-size-fits-all cure, but treatment can be very effective for most people. People can receive support from their primary care doctor, a psychiatrist or therapist. Some people can benefit from group therapy. Others can find comfort in their faith or by reading about the experiences of other people who have depression. The most important thing is to seek help early, before the symptoms of depression become more severe.