Depression is a serious illness that affects how you feel, think and behave. It can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness that make it hard to get through the day. It can also interfere with your ability to work and to have healthy relationships. If left untreated, depression can cause problems in all areas of your life. It can even lead to thoughts of suicide. If you have these thoughts, call a suicide hotline or emergency services right away.
Depression can happen to anyone. But people who have experienced a lot of stress or trauma, such as severe loss, abuse, violence or poverty, are more likely to develop depression. So are people who have certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disease or a viral infection. It is also more common in women than men.
Your health care provider can diagnose depression with a physical exam and a talk with you. He or she will ask questions about your symptoms, when they started and how long they have lasted. He or she will also ask whether your symptoms are getting better or worse. He or she may order blood tests or other lab work to check for illnesses that can cause similar symptoms.
Some types of psychotherapy can help treat depression. They include family and group therapy. People with depression often find relief from talking about their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Psychotherapy is not a substitute for medical treatment, however. It can take time to get better, so stick with your treatment plan.
Many different medicines can help treat depression by changing the way your brain uses chemicals. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for these medicines to start working. If your doctor prescribes medicine, take it as prescribed. Never stop taking it, unless your doctor tells you to. Symptoms can come back when you stop taking the medicine.
You can also improve your mood by making changes to your lifestyle. Exercise, eating well and sleeping regularly can all help. Spending time with friends and family can also lift your mood. If you have trouble sleeping, try going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning. Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs, which can make depression worse.
Learn about depression. Educating yourself about your condition can empower you to stick with your treatment plan and be more aware of warning signs. Encourage your family to do the same so that they can help support you. Watch for changes in how your loved ones act. If a friend or family member has thoughts of suicide, stay with him or her until emergency services arrive. In the United States, if your depression keeps you from working, you may qualify for social security disability benefits. You can also ask your health care provider for help finding a disability counselor. They can help you understand the process and guide you through the paperwork.