More Information

Depression is a medical condition, not a character flaw or weakness. It affects persons of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It has both chemical (physical or biological) causes and psychological (mental or emotional) causes.

Many people with depression do not seek treatment because they are embarrassed or think they will get over it on their own. If you feel you have depression or have been diagnosed with depression, there are many treatments available to help you. In fact 70% of people with depression can be treated successfully with medication and counseling.

One out of five people will experience a depressive episode.

Unfortunately, depression often is neither recognized nor properly treated. It can be difficult to recognize and diagnose. In fact, 50% of depression is not recognized in the primary care setting. If left untreated, depression can lead to distress, social impairment, and increased risk of suicide.

The course of depression varies from one person to another. You might have mild symptoms of depression for a long time, or you may have severe symptoms for a brief time. Sometimes episodes of depression are preceded or followed by periods of high energy (mania). A small number of people feel depressed for most of their lives and require long-term treatment.

Depression effects people of all ages.

Depression is a growing problem in both children and elderly people. In children and adolescents, depression might be mistaken for hormonal "moodiness."

Women tend to experience depression twice as often as men do, although men are more likely to commit suicide as a result of their depression.

Older people may think it is normal to experience feelings of depression along with aging. But depression at any age is not normal, and treatment should be sought as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of depression.

Symptoms of depression are more than just the normal, temporary feelings of sadness and hopelessness associated with life events. If you are depressed, you will also experience five or more symptoms such as:

  • Problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions.
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits. You may eat or sleep too much or too little.
  • A loss of interest in things you once enjoyed.
  • Difficulty going to work or taking care of your daily responsibilities.
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness. It is common for depression to make you wonder if life is worth living.
  • Slowed thoughts and speech or no speech.
  • Preoccupation with thoughts of death or suicide.

What increases your risk?

General risk factors for depression include:

  • Suffering from depression in the past.
  • A family history of depression.
  • Problems in your marriage.
  • Being between the ages of 18 and 44, although depression can also develop in the early adolescent years.
  • Use of drugs or alcohol.
  • Use of certain medications that are known to trigger episodes of depression (such as medications to treat high blood pressure or seizures).
  • A stressful life event, such as losing a job or a loved one. This is especially true for older persons who experience many social stressors (such as becoming dependent upon others for care).
  • Certain medical conditions (such as anemia or heart disease) that are known to trigger episodes of depression.
  • Recent surgery or chronic pain.
  • A childhood history of physical or sexual abuse.
  • A personality with traits of neuroticism.
  • Having an eating or anxiety disorder.

Other risk factors unique to depression in women include:

  • Recently giving birth (postpartum depression).
  • Use of oral contraceptives or fertility drugs.
  • A family history of mood disorders in the reproductive years.
  • A history of premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Types of depressive disorders.

Depressive disorders are classified according to the severity and duration of the depression.

  • One type of depression is dysthymic disorder. It is less severe than a major depressive disorder (which is diagnosed when a person has had at least one episode of major depression), but it lasts a long time.
  • Depression puts you at a higher risk for attempting suicide. You may need to be admitted to a hospital for a short time if you are having thoughts of suicide. It is imperative that you seek immediate treatment if you have thoughts of suicide.
  • People with depression may also have symptoms of anxiety (such as worrying, feeling guilty, and having problems sleeping or concentrating) or psychosis.
  • Some people experience depression only during certain seasons of the year, such as the fall and winter months (seasonal pattern depression).
  • If you have depression along with mania, you may be suffering from bipolar disorder. (For more information, see Bipolar Disorder.)

If you have one episode you are more likely to become depressed again.

Your risk increases with each episode. It is important to let your doctor know if you suspect that you are suffering from depression. Once diagnosed, you and your doctor can then decide how to treat your depression. The earlier you get treatment, the more quickly you will feel better or recover.