Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects how you feel, think, and act. It isn’t a character flaw or weakness, and it can be treated.
The first step is to recognize that you have a problem. If you have symptoms, talk to your doctor or other health care provider. Your doctor can assess you and refer you to a mental health professional for therapy or medication.
People with severe or severe-to-moderate depression can have thoughts about hurting themselves (thoughts of suicide). If you have these thoughts, don’t wait to get treatment. The sooner you treat depression, the more likely you are to recover.
Many factors may contribute to depression, including certain illnesses and life events. It also tends to run in families. But depression can develop for no apparent reason, too. It can also become more frequent or severe if it goes untreated.
Depression has no single cause, but it is likely caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. Research suggests that certain neurotransmitters may be involved, but it’s not as simple as one chemical being too low and another being too high. There are millions, maybe even billions, of chemical reactions going on inside and outside nerve cells at any given time.
Other factors that may contribute to depression include changes in hormone levels, especially during times of hormonal change such as the teen years, pregnancy, childbirth, the weeks and months afterward, menopause, or thyroid problems. Severe or chronic pain and a history of substance abuse can also increase your risk. Gender also plays a role. Women are twice as likely to have depression, but researchers don’t know exactly why.
Most people who have depression are able to recover with treatment, which can include psychotherapy and/or medications. It is important to find a therapist with whom you’re comfortable and who takes your concerns seriously. Some therapists have special training in treating depression. Others use a variety of approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Antidepressants work by changing the way your brain uses certain chemicals, but it can take 4 to 6 weeks for these medicines to have a full effect. If you’re taking antidepressants, don’t stop them unless your doctor says it’s safe to do so. It can be very dangerous to stop your medicine suddenly.
If you’re unable to work because of depression, the Social Security Administration considers it a disability that qualifies you for benefits. To learn more, see the SSA’s website. If you can’t afford a private therapist, community mental health clinics often offer services on a sliding fee scale. Also, check with local senior centers and religious organizations. These groups often have trained volunteers who can help. You may be able to find a therapist through word of mouth or with the help of a referral from your regular doctor or a mental health professional. Some insurance companies also provide coverage for psychotherapy. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill offers a list of resources and support groups.