How to Cope With Depression

Depression affects millions of people, including young children and seniors. It can be triggered by a life event, such as a breakup or the death of a loved one, or it can be caused by a physical illness, such as heart disease or cancer. Often, the medications people take for another health problem can cause depression as a side effect. Some people are more likely to develop depression because of certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or an overly critical attitude, or they may have a family history of the condition.

Depression can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or helplessness. It can make everyday activities such as going to work, taking care of the kids or cleaning the house seem more difficult than usual. It can also make it harder to find pleasure in activities that normally bring you joy. People with depression often feel that everyone else is happy but them and that there’s no reason to feel better.

While popular lore holds that emotions reside in the heart, science tracks where your moods live to specific areas of the brain. Chemicals called neurotransmitters, which communicate with the nerve circuits that regulate mood, play a role in depression. Depression can also be triggered by changes in your hormone levels, such as those that occur with pregnancy and the weeks or months after, or during menopause. Lastly, research suggests that genes may be linked to depression.

The symptoms of depression are different for every person, but they include persistently feeling sad or guilty, having trouble sleeping, a loss of interest in things you usually enjoy and feeling hopeless or worthless. If you or someone you know is having these symptoms, it’s important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional and get treatment right away.

People with severe depression may have thoughts of suicide or self-harm. A 2023 report from Mental Health America, a nonprofit founded in 1909, found that the percentage of people reporting suicidal ideation had grown across all racial and ethnic groups since 2020.

When a friend or relative has depression, you can support them by encouraging them to seek help and helping them set up appointments and go with them to the doctor or counselor. You can also encourage them to stay physically active, eat well and socialize with friends.

You can also offer to take on chores or errands that your friend or relative has trouble doing because of their depression. You can also remind them that they are not alone and that the depression will improve with treatment. Many organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, employer-assistance programs and religious communities, offer support for people with depression. You can also search online for local mental health support groups or ask your health care provider for a list of resources. You can also offer to help your friend or relative find ways to relieve stress, such as by helping to plan meals, chores and other activities, and by minimizing the amount of time they spend on social media.