Depression is one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Between 80% and 90% of people who get treatment experience some relief from their symptoms. The earlier you seek help, the more effective treatment is. You can be helped by medicine or psychotherapy — or a combination of the two. Exercise is also helpful.
Depression can affect anyone. It can happen at any age, although it is more common in adults. Depression can be triggered by stressful events, like losing a job or having a relationship breakup. But it also can result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Scientists aren’t sure what causes that imbalance. They used to believe that low levels of certain neurotransmitters — chemical messengers that communicate between nerve cells — caused depression, but new research suggests that isn’t the case for most people.
When you have depression, you’ll feel sad and hopeless. You may be irritable or angry, or have trouble thinking clearly. You may also have problems concentrating, making decisions or sleeping. The feelings can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Depression can cause a lot of different symptoms, and each person has a slightly different set of symptoms. But some of the most common are sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, worthlessness or hopelessness, fatigue and a change in sleeping patterns.
A health care professional will ask you questions about your symptoms and how long they have been present. They will also do a physical examination and order blood tests to make sure the depression isn’t due to a medical condition, such as thyroid disease or vitamin deficiency.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) may help you work through your issues and improve your relationships. It can be short-term, but some people have therapy for several months or years. You might try cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, or you might have psychodynamic therapy. Some psychotherapy is group-based and involves sharing your thoughts with others who have the same problem.
Medications, such as antidepressants, may change the chemicals in your brain that can cause depression. It usually takes 4 to 6 weeks for these medicines to take effect. You might have to try several different kinds of antidepressants before you find the one that works best for you.
For severe, life-threatening depression that doesn’t respond to medicine, electroconvulsive therapy may be recommended. In this treatment, a mild electrical current is passed through your brain, causing brief seizures. This restores the balance of chemicals in your brain and relieves depression.
It’s important to understand that the thoughts and feelings you have are not your fault. If your depression is preventing you from working, the Social Security Administration considers it a disability and might provide benefits. You can also try to cope with your depression by getting support from family and friends, exercising, practicing relaxation techniques and getting enough sleep. Also, try to avoid alcohol and drugs — they can make your depression worse. If you have thoughts of suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.