Depression is a serious illness, but it’s treatable. The sooner treatment begins, the more effective it is. Most cases of depression are treated with antidepressant medication or psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Depression can make people feel sad and hopeless, but it’s important to get help. Untreated depression can worsen over time, causing physical pain and leading to thoughts of suicide in some people. It can also affect a person’s work, family life and personal relationships.
Depression can cause a variety of symptoms, including sadness, irritability and clinginess, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty sleeping, feeling tired or sluggish, low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities or pleasure, thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts. The condition can be hard to identify and diagnose, and many people don’t seek medical attention. Symptoms can last for hours, days or longer and interfere with daily activities.
Several persistent symptoms are needed for a diagnosis of depression, but the duration and severity can vary from one person to another. The condition may be mild to moderate or severe, and it can take weeks to months for a person to begin to feel better.
Some physical illnesses, such as thyroid disease or cancer, can contribute to depression. Some medications can also trigger the condition, especially those taken to treat other health conditions such as heart disease or high blood pressure.
The long-held belief that depression is caused by low levels of certain neurotransmitters (natural chemical messengers that communicate with nerve cells) has been debunked, according to a study published in 2022 in the journal “Molecular Psychiatry.” However, it is believed that changes in the balance of hormones may play a role, as well as abnormalities in the functioning of neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability.
A history of a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or manic depression, can increase the risk for depression. A number of stressful events can also contribute to the development of depression, including a major life change such as moving, a breakup or the loss of a job; ongoing stress at work or home; or abuse and neglect in close relationships.
Getting help for depression is the best way to prevent or lessen the severity of the symptoms. A good place to start is your regular health care provider, who can refer you to a mental health professional or other specialists. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help people learn how to recognize and cope with their negative feelings. Exercise, healthy eating and getting enough sleep can also ease depression. People with depression should also try to stay connected to friends and family, and consider postponing major decisions such as marriage or divorce, changing jobs or moving until they are feeling better. It is also important to avoid drugs and alcohol, which can actually worsen the symptoms. Taking small steps to improve your mood can give you the motivation to continue making positive changes. It may be difficult to get out of bed, but even something as simple as going for a walk or listening to music can boost your spirits and energy.