Basics & Facts
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7% of adults and 11.2% of teenagers in the United States suffer from depression. This condition is one that can cause emotional as well as physical symptoms. Most people require treatment in order to recover from depression. The good news is that many people experience a successful recovery when they do seek treatment for this condition.
Depression is generally described as a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest that is significant enough to interfere with someone’s day-to-day life. Contrary to what some people believe, depression is considered a medical illness. It’s not something that a person can just “snap out” of. Instead, it requires treatment like many other medical conditions. Other terms used interchangeably with depression are major depressive disorder, major depression and clinical depression.
Symptoms & Types
The types and severity of the symptoms of depression can vary from person to person or even from day-to-day depending on how it affects an individual. However, depression causes people to have a generally negative attitude and feeling of hopelessness when faced with problems.
Symptoms of depression may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or unhappiness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
- Feelings of helplessness or loss of hope
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Becoming withdrawn or isolated
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Reduced sex drive
- Back pain, headaches or other unexplained physical problems
- Crying spells
- Dramatic changes in appetite, often causing weight loss or gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide
In many cases, the symptoms of depression seem to appear for no apparent reason. Someone with depression may not be able to point to anything in particular that is causing them to feel miserable or unhappy.
Causes & Diagnosis
There is no known cause for depression. While many researchers believe depression occurs as a result of chemical changes in the brain, others feel that depression is triggered by a genetic issue or stressful events. However, there are several factors which doctors agree may play a role in the development of depression, including:
- Family history of depression
- Stressful live events, such as the loss of a loved one or childhood abuse
- Taking certain medications, such as steroids
- Having certain medical conditions, such as an underactive thyroid or cancer
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Sleeping problems
- Early childhood trauma
- Hormone changes
- Giving birth (post-partum depression)
There are certain risk factors which may increase someone’s chances of developing depression. Though depression can happen at any age, it often begins in the teens, 20s or 30s. Twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men, but it is unknown whether this is because women are more likely to seek treatment. People who have had depression are also more likely to develop it again. In addition, experiencing or having any of the causes listed above will increase a person’s risk for developing depression at some point.
There are no clear methods for preventing depression. However, people can take some steps to decrease their risk, such as controlling stress, seeking out friendships and social support or avoiding alcohol and drug abuse. For people with a higher risk due to family history, personal history, early childhood trauma, etc., it’s also important to be mindful of how you’re feeling so that you can seek treatment if you begin having depressed thoughts or feelings.
Treatment & Management
There are two main types of treatment used for depression: antidepressant medications and psychotherapy (talk therapy). While some individuals may feel better with just one type of treatment, others require both in order to recover. In severe cases, treatment in a psychiatric hospital may be recommended.
In addition to medications and counseling, there are some at-home remedies that can be used to encourage a more successful recovery. Depressed individuals are advised to get plenty of exercise and sleep to help their mental and physical well-being. In addition, avoiding drugs and alcohol is another helpful step in recovery or many people. The herb St. John’s wort is sometimes recommended as well, but it should only be used after consulting a doctor.
It’s important to seek treatment for depression as soon as you suspect that you may be suffering from it. When depression goes untreated, it can lead to other mental and physical health problems and it can negatively impact a person’s life in many ways.
Finally, if you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call a suicide hot line number like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). If someone attempts or is thinking about attempting suicide, call 911 or get to a hospital as soon as possible.
The prognosis for depression is generally very good with proper treatment, though it may take some people several months to fully feel better. If you are suffering depression, seek help from a doctor and stick to the treatment plan they prescribe in order to increase your chances for recovery.