What is depression?

Nearly everyone has felt depressed, sad, or blue at one time or another. A depressed mood is a normal reaction to loss, life's struggles, or injured self-esteem. Sometimes, however, depression becomes intense, lasts for long periods, and prevents a person from leading a normal life. If left untreated, depression can get worse, sometimes lasting for years. It can even result in suicide. It is important to recognize the signs of depression and seek help if you see signs of depression in you or a loved one. It is important to know that depression CAN be treated successfully.

What are the symptoms of depression?

The major symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Feeling extremely sad, anxious, or "empty"
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Loss of enjoyment from things that were once pleasurable
  • Loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite that lead to weight loss or gain
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Digestive problems
  • Problems with sexual function
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Attempting suicide

If you or someone you know is demonstrating any of the following warning signs, contact a primary care doctor, a mental health professional, or a community mental health center. If you feel unsafe, go to the nearest emergency room for evaluation and treatment.

What causes depression?

Depression may result from various factors in a person's life, including:

  • High levels of stress
  • Life transitions
  • Loss
  • Physical illness
  • Family history of depression
  • Imbalances in the chemicals that the body uses to control mood
  • Certain medicines
  • Lack of social support
  • Lack of good coping skills
  • History of traumatic experiences

What are the types of depression?

Major depressive disorder (or major depression): A person with this type of depression feels a profound and constant sense of hopelessness and despair. The symptoms of major depression interfere with the person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy themselves, even activities which had previously been pleasurable. This disabling type of depression may occur only once in a lifetime, or more commonly, occurs several times in a lifetime.

Minor depression: A person with this type of depression has symptoms for longer than two weeks at a time, but does not meet the criteria for major depression.

Dysthymic disorder (or dysthymia or chronic depression): In dysthymia, the main symptom is a low mood on most days for a long period of time. Other depression symptoms may be present, but are not as severe as in major depression.

How is depression diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask you to describe your symptoms and medical history. He or she likely will ask if you or anyone in your family has had depression or other mental health problems. You also may need to complete a depression screening questionnaire. Symptoms of depression sometimes are caused by a physical disorder or illness. Your health care provider also may perform a physical exam or laboratory tests to determine if there is a physical cause for the depression.

How is depression treated?

Treatment recommendations typically depend on the severity and nature of the depression. Treatment interventions often involve antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of these interventions.

Can depression be prevented?

Some individuals who have had an episode of depression are prone to have another one. The best way to prevent another episode is to be aware of the triggers of depression, know your own symptoms, and seek help early if you need it.

Why seek help if I have coped with depression before?

You may have recognized periods of depression in your life. Perhaps these periods lasted for several months and you learned to cope. But early treatment is important because:

  • Without treatment, depression can become worse.
  • Depression can lead to suicide.
  • Without treatment, people who suffer from episodes of depression often do not fully recover.
  • Treatment can prevent depression from coming back.
  • Your depression may be the sign of another illness, which can worsen without treatment.
  • Depression can increase your risk of developing other diseases, including dementia.

Where can I learn more?

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Colonial Place Three
2107 Wilson Blvd., Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201-3042
Toll-free: 800.950.6264
Website: www.nami.org

National Mental Health Association
2001 N. Beauregard Street, 12th Floor
Alexandria, VA 22311
Toll-free: 800.969-NMHA (6642)
Website: www.nmha.org


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/31/2014...#9290