Depression (major depression)
Depression (major depression)
Depression is a medical illness that involves the mind and body. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder and clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave. Depression can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn't worth living.
More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn't a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply "snap out" of. Depression is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment, like diabetes or high blood pressure. But don't get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychological counseling or other treatment.
Depression symptoms include:
For some people, depression symptoms are so severe that it's obvious something isn't right. Others people feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.
Depression affects each person in different ways, so depression symptoms vary from person to person. Inherited traits, age, gender and cultural background all play a role in how depression may affect you.
Depression symptoms in children and teens
Depression symptoms in older adults
When to see a doctor
If you're reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a faith leader, or someone else you trust.
If you have suicidal thoughts
When to get emergency help
It's not known exactly what causes depression. As with many mental illnesses, it appears a variety of factors may be involved. These include:
Depression typically begins in the late 20s, but it can happen at any age. Twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men, but this may be due in part because women are more likely to seek treatment for depression.
Although the precise cause of depression isn't known, researchers have identified certain factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression, including:
Depression is a serious illness that can take a terrible toll on individuals and families. Untreated depression can result in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life. Complications associated with depression can include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred directly to a psychiatrist — a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For problems related to depression, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Because depression is common and often goes undiagnosed, some doctors and health care providers may ask questions about your mood and thoughts during routine medical visits. They may even ask you to fill out a brief questionnaire to help check for depression symptoms.
When doctors suspect someone has depression, they generally ask a number of questions and may do medical and psychological tests. These can help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms, pinpoint a diagnosis and also check for any related complications. These exams and tests generally include:
Diagnostic criteria for depression
To be diagnosed with major depression, you must have five or more of the following symptoms over a two-week period. At least one of the symptoms must be either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure. Symptoms can be based on your own feelings or may be based on the observations of someone else. They include:
To be considered major depression:
Other conditions that cause depression symptoms
Make sure you understand what type of depression you have so that you can learn more about your specific situation and its treatments.
Treatments and drugs
Numerous depression treatments are available. Medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) are very effective for most people.
In some cases, a primary care doctor can prescribe medications to relieve depression symptoms. However, many people need to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychiatrist). Many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychologist or other mental health counselor. Usually the most effective treatment for depression is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
If you have severe depression, a doctor, loved one or guardian may need to guide your care until you're well enough to participate in decision making. You may need a hospital stay, or you may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until your symptoms improve.
Here's a closer look at your depression treatment options.
Types of antidepressants include:
Finding the right medication
If antidepressant treatment doesn't seem to be working, your doctor may recommend a blood test to check for specific genes that affect how your body uses antidepressants. The cytochrome P450 (CYP450) genotyping test is one example of this type of exam. Genetic testing of this kind can help predict how well your body can or can't process (metabolize) a medication. This may help identify which antidepressant might be a good choice for you. These genetic tests aren't widely available, so they're an option only for people who have access to a clinic that offers them.
Antidepressants and pregnancy
Antidepressants and increased suicide risk
The antidepressant warnings note that in some cases, children, adolescents and young adults ages 18 to 24 may have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants, especially in the first few weeks after starting an antidepressant or when the dose is changed. Because of this risk, people in these age groups must be closely monitored by loved ones, caregivers and health care providers while taking antidepressants. If you — or someone you know — has suicidal thoughts when taking an antidepressant, immediately contact your doctor or get emergency help.
Again, make sure you understand the risks of the various antidepressants. Working together, you and your doctor can explore options to get your depression symptoms under control.
Through these talk sessions, you learn about the causes of depression so that you can better understand it. You also learn how to identify and make changes in unhealthy behavior or thoughts, explore relationships and experiences, find better ways to cope and solve problems, and set realistic goals for your life. Psychotherapy can help you regain a sense of happiness and control in your life and help ease depression symptoms such as hopelessness and anger. It may also help you adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty.
There are several types of psychotherapy that are effective for depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used therapies. This type of therapy helps you identify negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones. It's based on the idea that your own thoughts — not other people or situations — determine how you feel or behave. Even if an unwanted situation doesn't change, you can change the way you think and behave in a positive way. Interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy are other types of counseling commonly used to treat depression.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
ECT is usually used for people who don't get better with medications and for those at high risk of suicide. ECT may be an option if you have severe depression when you're pregnant and can't take your regular medications. It can also be an effective treatment for older adults who have severe depression and can't take antidepressants for health reasons.
Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
Other treatments for depression
Lifestyle and home remedies
Lifestyle and home remedies
Depression generally isn't an illness that you can treat on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will help. In addition to professional treatment, follow these self-care steps:
You may be interested in trying to relieve depression symptoms with complementary or alternative medicine strategies. These include supplements and mind-body techniques. Make certain you understand risks as well possible benefits before pursuing alternative therapy. Don't forgo conventional medical treatment or psychotherapy for alternative medicine. When it comes to depression, alternative treatments aren't a substitute for medical care.
Here are some common alternative treatments that are used for depression.
Herbal remedies and supplements
Keep in mind that nutritional and dietary products aren't monitored by the Food and Drug Administration the same way medications are. You can't always be certain of what you're getting and if it's safe. Also, be aware that some herbal and dietary supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions. To be safe, talk to your doctors and other health care providers before taking any herbal or dietary supplements.
Mind-body techniques used to improve depression symptoms include:
As with dietary supplements, take care in using these techniques. Although they may pose less of a risk, relying solely on these therapies is not enough to treat depression. If you try mind-body techniques or other alternative therapies first to treat your depression but your symptoms worsen or don't improve, talk to your doctor.
Coping and support
Coping with depression can be challenging. Talk to your doctor or therapist about improving your coping skills, and try these tips:
There's no sure way to prevent depression. However, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help. Friendship and social support, especially in times of crisis, can help you weather rough spells. In addition, treatment at the earliest sign of a problem can help prevent depression from worsening. Long-term maintenance treatment also may help prevent a relapse of depression symptoms.
Last Updated: 2010-02-11
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