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What Everyone Should Know About Depression

March 16, 2018

Everyone has had a bad day—or even a bad week—now and then. However, if your sadness interferes with daily living and lasts for more than two weeks, you may be affected by depression, a serious but treatable mood disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates about “16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode” in 2016 - that’s about 6.7% of all U.S. adults.

Know the Symptoms

Depression causes symptoms that affect how you feel, think and handle daily activities like sleeping, eating and working. But, different people have different symptoms. Sadness may come to mind as the classic symptom of depression, but it is only one small part of the disorder. The Mayo Clinic reports that symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness or worthlessness: You may feel empty or hopeless and prone to crying. It may be a challenge to let go of feelings of guilt or past failures.
  • Anxiety: Feelings of worry and restlessness are common.
  • Excessive anger: People with depression may be irritable or have unexpected outbursts.
  • “Fuzzy” thinking: You may find it difficult to concentrate, remember things or make decisions.
  • Sleep disturbances: You may either have insomnia or sleep too much.
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy: Activities that are normally pleasurable, like hobbies, sports or even sex may lose their appeal.
  • Lack of energy: Even small tasks may take extra effort due to excessive fatigue.
  • Change in appetite: Some people with depression experience reduced appetite and weight loss. Others get increased cravings for food and weight gain.
  • Unexplained physical problems: Stubborn back pain, stomachaches and headaches are common among people with depression.
  • Thoughts of death: Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts can intrude on everyday life.

Also, be aware that these symptoms may vary slightly or be less obvious among older people.

What Causes Depression?

It's not known exactly what causes depression. As with many mental disorders, a variety of factors are probably involved, such as:

  • Brain chemistry: Researchers believe that problems with chemicals in the brain that interact with nerve cells, like serotonin, may cause depression. Hormone imbalances may also be involved.
  • Genetics: Having a close family member with depression might increase your risk.
  • Environment: Difficult life circumstances, such as being exposed to violence or living in poverty, can increase your risk of depression.
  • Illness: Depression can be a symptom of another illness. It’s important to talk to a doctor to rule out other health problems.
  • Stress: A job loss, money problems, a breakup or the loss of a loved one can all trigger depression. Even happy changes, like a promotion at work or a new baby, can cause enough stress to create a major depression, such as postpartum depression.
Take Action to Beat Depression

Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome depression. These strategies include:

  • Asking for help: See your doctor to rule out other causes for your symptoms and to seek advice. Depression won’t go away by itself, so it’s important to get professional help.
  • Getting treatment: If your doctor thinks you have depression, you may want to consider seeing a mental health professional who specializes in helping those with the disorder.
  • Spending time with loved ones: Turn to trusted friends and family members. Alone time can also be healing, but be aware that too much isolation can make depression worse.
  • Setting realistic goals: Break big tasks into smaller ones so you feel less overwhelmed.
  • Stress: A job loss, money problems, a breakup or the loss of a loved one can all trigger depression. Even happy changes, like a promotion at work or a new baby, can cause enough stress to create a major depression, such as postpartum depression.
  • Avoiding big decisions: Depression can cloud your thinking. Discuss any big changes with people who know you well.
  • Seeking support: It can help to join a support group and meet others who are struggling with some of the same issues you are. To find a support group, ask at your local mental health authority or search online. Most national mental health organizations, like National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), will have a listing of support groups in your area. While you’re on their site, be sure to check out the other resources that are available to help you.

Finally, be patient with yourself. Take it one day at a time. With time and treatment, you’ll feel like yourself again.

If you have questions about mental illness, treatment options or resources that can help you, call the NAMI helpline at 800-950-NAMI. To get support for yourself or someone else who is struggling with suicidal thoughts and impulses, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK). Trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 to help, even if you’re not considering suicide.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 right away and let them know it’s a psychiatric emergency. Ask for an officer who’s been trained in crisis intervention or trained in helping those experiencing a psychiatric emergency.