Feeling down from time to time is a normal part of life. But if feelings of sadness or hopelessness stick around and make it hard to get through the day, you may have depression. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of depression, and talk with a health care provider about them. Depression is treatable, and the earlier treatment begins, the better the chances for recovery.
Symptoms of depression can be different for everyone. But the main ones are:
A persistent sad or hopeless mood that lasts for weeks or months. A loss of interest in things that normally give you pleasure. A change in sleep (either sleeping too much or not enough). Fatigue or a general lack of energy. A feeling of worthlessness or guilt that isn’t related to a specific event. Suicidal thoughts or actions, which can be dangerous for young people and those with certain mental illnesses.
Depression can have many causes, including brain chemistry and genetics. Chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters play a role in mood. Some research suggests that changes in these chemicals may cause or worsen depression. Hormone changes can also trigger depression. These changes can happen during pregnancy and the weeks or months afterward, from thyroid problems, menopause or other conditions.
Stressful experiences, such as the death of a loved one or trauma, can also trigger depression. So can chronic pain and isolation. And some medications, such as those used to treat chronic diseases like diabetes and some drugs used to help with withdrawal from substances, can cause depression.
Having a first-degree relative who has had depression makes you about three times more likely to develop the condition yourself. But you can still have depression without a family history of it. And some personality traits, such as low self-esteem and a tendency to blame yourself when things go wrong, can make you more susceptible to depression.
If you think you or someone you know has depression, start by seeing your regular doctor. He or she can do a physical exam and interview you about your symptoms. Then he or she can refer you to a mental health professional who can do a mental health assessment and recommend treatment.
Depression can be difficult to diagnose and treat, especially for those who don’t seek help. People who suspect a loved one has hidden depression should reach out to them with nonjudgmental support and encouragement, and offer to accompany them to appointments with a health care provider or psychotherapist. They can also consider calling a suicide prevention hotline, such as 988 or the national number for the Depressed Anonymous support group, which can be reached at any time of the day. Or they can text TALK to 741741, which connects you with a trained crisis counselor. These services are free and confidential. People who are depressed may be reluctant to seek help, but they should because it can be lifesaving. If you have a friend or loved one who is considering suicide, stay with them until professional help arrives.