When doctors talk about depression, they mean the medical illness called major depression. Someone who has major depression has symptoms like those listed in the Symptoms section nearly every day, all day, for 2 weeks or longer. There is also a minor form of depression that causes less severe symptoms. Both kinds of depression have the same causes and treatment.
Depression can affect people of all ages and is different for every person. A person who has depression can’t control his or her feelings. If you or your child, teen, or older relative is depressed, it’s not his or her fault.
Yes. Women are twice as likely as men to experience depression. The reason for this is unknown, but changes in a woman's hormone levels may be related to depression.
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The symptoms of depression are different for every person. You may have one or many of the symptoms listed below. Your symptoms may include only emotional or only physical symptoms, or both.
The symptoms of depression may be different for children, teens, and seniors.
Depression may be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Sometimes there aren't enough chemical messengers (called neurotransmitters) in the brain. Examples of neurotransmitters that affect your mood are serotonin (say: "sair-a-tone-in"), norepinephrine (say: "nor-ep-in-ef-rin"), and dopamine (say: “dope-a-mean”). A chemical imbalance in the brain may be caused by one or more of the following:
Depression is not caused by personal weakness, laziness, or lack of willpower.
In the days following the birth of a baby, it is common for some mothers to have mood swings. They may feel a little depressed, have a hard time concentrating, lose their appetite, or find that they can't sleep well even when the baby is asleep. This is called the baby blues and goes away within 10 days after delivery. However, some women have worse symptoms or symptoms that last longer. This is called postpartum depression.
You need to tell your doctor about your symptoms. Don't expect your doctor to be able to guess that you're depressed just by looking at you. You may feel embarrassed, or it may be hard for you to imagine treatment will actually help you feel better. But don’t wait to talk to your doctor. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner the depression will lift.
Once you tell your doctor how you're feeling, he or she may ask you some questions about your symptoms, about your health, and about your family history. Your doctor may also give you a physical exam and do some tests. It is important to tell your doctor about any medicines that you are taking.
Depression can be treated with medicines, with counseling, or with both. A nutritious diet, exercising on a regular basis, and avoiding alcohol, drugs, and too much caffeine can also help.
Depression can usually be treated through visits to your doctor. Treatment in the hospital may be needed if you have other medical conditions that could affect your treatment or if you're at high risk of suicide.
This depends on how soon you get help. Left untreated, depression can last for weeks, months, or even years. The main risk in not getting treatment is suicide. Treatment can help depression lift in 8 to 12 weeks or less.
Medicines that treat depression are called antidepressants. They help increase the number of chemical messengers (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine) in your brain.
Antidepressants work differently for different people. They also have different side effects. So, even if one medicine bothers you or doesn't work for you, another may help. You may notice improvement as soon as 1 week after you start taking the medicine. But you probably won't see the full effects for about 8 to 12 weeks. You may have side effects at first, but they tend to decrease after a couple of weeks. Don't stop taking the medicine without checking with your doctor first.
For mild to moderate depression, counseling may be a good treatment option. For major depression and for some people with minor depression, counseling may not be enough. A combination of medicine and talk therapy is usually the most effective way of treating more severe depression. If you continue the combination treatment for at least a year, you are less likely to have depression come back.
In psychotherapy, you talk with a trained therapist or counselor about things that are going on in your life. The focus may be on your thoughts and beliefs, on things that happened in your past, or on your relationships. Or the focus may be on your behavior, how it's affecting you, and what you can do differently. Psychotherapy usually lasts for a limited time, such as 8 to 20 visits.
Electroconvulsive therapy (also called ECT or electroshock therapy) is a procedure used to help treat certain mental illnesses. Electric currents are passed through the brain in order to trigger a seizure (a short period of irregular brain activity), lasting about 40 seconds. Medicine is given during ECT to help prevent damage to muscles and bones.
Electroconvulsive therapy may help people who have the following conditions:
People who have depression sometimes think about suicide. This thinking is a common part of the depression. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself, tell someone. You could tell your doctor, your friends, your family, or call your local suicide hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Get help right away. There are people who can help you, and depression can be successfully treated.
Depression in Women: Diagnostic and Treatment Considerations by SC Bhatia, M.D. and SK Bhatia, M.D. (American Family Physician July 01, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990700ap/225.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff