Depression can cause feelings of sadness, helplessness or hopelessness that affect a person’s whole life. People of all ages can have depression. Depression doesn’t just make people feel sad, but can also cause other symptoms such as trouble sleeping or eating, aches and pains, and problems at work and school. In some cases, depression can lead to thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Depression can be treated with medicine, psychotherapy or a combination of both. People with depression can feel better if they start treatment early.
Some things that can trigger depression are changes in brain chemistry, hormones or other bodily chemicals, and personal, family or community events. Depression can also run in the family — it may be more likely to happen if a person’s blood relatives have depression.
Other factors that can lead to depression include having a history of abuse or neglect, being exposed to violence and stress, certain medications, physical illnesses, or illness-related side effects such as anemia, thyroid disease, or menstrual cycle issues. Depression can also be triggered by stressful life events, such as divorce, getting fired from a job, having financial problems or other disasters, or a major loss.
Many people who experience depression have a hard time telling others about their feelings or asking for help. However, talking to a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a faith leader or another trusted person is an important first step. Some people with depression also benefit from taking part in a clinical trial that looks at new ways to prevent, detect or treat illnesses and conditions, including depression.
Depression can have a profound impact on a person’s relationships and quality of life. It can cause a person to withdraw from friends and family, lose interest in hobbies, work or school, or become irritable and easily angered. It can also lead to poor health and sleep and eating habits, and increase alcohol and drug use. Depression can have a serious effect on a person’s sexual functioning and can even interfere with sex. Depression can also be especially difficult for people with marginalized identities, who report that their experiences of discrimination and racism or xenophobia contribute to their mental health struggles.
Depression can affect a person’s ability to take part in everyday activities such as working, playing with children and family members, and going to church or other social activities. It can also impact a person’s self-esteem, and cause a variety of different physical problems, such as headaches or backaches. In Mental Health America’s online screenings in 2020, white people reported that coronavirus was a top factor in their mental health problems, while black people cited financial issues, and Hispanic/Latinx people reported loneliness/isolation. Some people with depression are at risk of thinking about suicide or self-harm, and some attempt it. If someone you know has thoughts of suicide, call 911 or a local emergency number and stay with them until help arrives. Be sure to remove any guns, knives or other dangerous items from the scene.