It’s normal and healthy to feel fluctuations in your emotions. We all feel sad at times. But if you experience ongoing feelings of sadness and hopelessness that interfere with your daily life, you may want to be screened for depression.
The causes of depression vary and are generally attributed to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. The triggers can also depend on the individual. People who have experienced a stressful or traumatic event, have problems with drug or alcohol abuse, have a family history of depression, or are suffering from other chronic illnesses may be at a higher risk for depression. It can affect anyone, regardless of age or circumstance.
Depression can be treated. The majority of those people who seek help for depression get better using common treatments, including medications and psychotherapy.1
Signs and Symptoms
How do you know if you or someone close to you is depressed? The way to determine if you or a loved one is depressed is to be evaluated by your healthcare provider.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) lists the following signs and symptoms common to depression:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps
- Digestive problems like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), heartburn, constipation or diarrhea
Even the most severe cases of depression can be treated effectively, especially when diagnosis and treatment begin early.2 If the list above coincides with how you have been feeling, see your doctor and discuss your symptoms. Your physician will be able to rule out other conditions and, if necessary, refer you to a mental health professional who will evaluate your particular situation and determine the treatment, if needed, best suited to you.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone. Health care professionals can help you and your loved ones heal.
NIH suggests the following strategies to help cope with depression as you work towards recovery:
- Do not wait too long to get evaluated or treated. A longer wait can mean greater impairment. Try to see a professional as soon as possible.
- Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can.
- Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
- Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Do not expect to suddenly "snap out of" your depression. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.
- Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
- Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.
- Continue to educate yourself about depression. Information is available from the National Institute of Mental Health website.