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 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.

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 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.

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