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Depression is a disorder of the brain. It is a serious mental illness that is more than just a feeling of being "down in the dumps" or "blue" for a few days.

For more than 20 million people in the United States who have depression, the feelings persist and can interfere with everyday life.

Types of Depression

The types of depression include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder, also known as clinical depression, is where people feel that a consistent dark mood is consuming them. It can inhibit daily functions and cause them to lose interest in activities which usually provide them pleasure.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder refers to when a low mood lasts for two or more years in adults and at least one year in children an adolescents. A person with this disorder may experience episodes of major depressive disorder along with periods of less severe symptoms where they are typically able to function day-to-day.
  • Postpartum Depression affects women after having a baby. It causes intense, long-lasting feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fatigue, making it difficult for mothers to care for themselves and/or their babies, as well as handle daily responsibilities. Postpartum depression can start anywhere from weeks to months after childbirth.
  • Psychotic Depression is a form of depression with psychosis that comes when people get very depressed, such as delusions (false beliefs) and/or hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there).
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder is associated with changes in seasons. This form of depression usually occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight.
  • Bipolar Disorder is different than depression, but a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder can experience episodes of major depression.

What Causes Depression?

There are a variety of causes of depression, including genetic, environmental, psychological, and biochemical factors.

A person has an increased risk of depression if their family has a history of depression, they have experienced trauma, major life changes, stress, or certain physical illnesses (such as diabetes, cancer, or Parkinson’s), or as a side effect to certain medications.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

Depression symptoms vary from person to person, and anyone who has questions about symptoms and signs should consult a doctor. To receive a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, some of these signs and symptoms must be present nearly every day for at least two weeks:

  • Continued feelings of sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, emptiness
  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Insomnia or other sleep issues, such as waking up very early or sleeping too much
  • Anxiety, irritability, restlessness
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Lack of interest or joy in hobbies and activities
  • Changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or weight gain
  • Moving, talking, or thinking more slowly or feeling extra fidgety
  • Forgetfulness
  • Trouble concentrating, thinking clearly, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of not wanting to live, death or suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harm behaviors

Depression Treatment and Help

Living with depression can feel lonely. People may be fearful or ashamed of being labeled with a serious mental illness, causing them to suffer in silence, rather than get help. In fact, most people with major depression never seek the right treatment. But those struggling with this illness are not alone. It’s one of the most common and most treatable mental health disorders. With early, continuous treatment, people can gain control of their symptoms, feel better, and get back to enjoying their lives.

There are effective treatments for depression, including medications (such as antidepressants), along with talk therapy. Most people do best by using both. If standard treatments do not reduce symptoms, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies are also options that may be explored.

To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Some tests are used to rule out other serious medical conditions that may cause similar symptoms. Also, some central nervous system injuries and illnesses may also lead to depression.

In addition to clinical treatments, if you are one of the millions of people living with depression, there are also healthy lifestyle habits that can help you feel better:

  • Focus on self-care. Control stress with activities such as meditation or tai chi. Eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Avoid using alcohol and recreational drugs, which can worsen symptoms and make depression harder to treat.
  • Set small, achievable goals. Set realistic goals to build confidence and motivation. A goal at the beginning of treatment may be to make your bed, have lunch with a friend, or take a walk. Build up to bigger goals as you feel better.
  • Know the warning signs. Recognize your depression triggers and talk to your doctor and/or mental health professional if you notice unusual changes in how you feel, think, or act. If needed, your doctor can safely adjust your medication. Write down how you feel day-to-day (moods, feelings, reactions) to spot patterns and understand your depression triggers.
  • Educate family and friends about major depression. They can help you notice warning signs that your depression may be returning.
  • Seek support. Whether you find encouragement from family members or a support group, maintaining relationships with others is important, especially in times of crisis or rough spells.
  • Stick to your treatment plan. Even if you feel better, don’t stop going to therapy or taking your medication. Abruptly stopping medication can cause withdrawal symptoms and a return of depression. Work with a doctor to adjust your doses or medication, if needed, to continue a treatment plan

Participating in a self-management education (SME) program can help patients manage depression and take control of their symptoms, such as anxiety, depressed mood, tiredness, and appetite changes.

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Last Updated
Last Updated: 04/24/2023
Last Updated