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What Is Depression?

Depression is a very common mood disorder. It’s not the same as feeling sad when bad things happen. If sadness lasts for days or weeks, makes it hard to work or do things with family or friends, or involves thoughts of suicide, depression is present.

Depression is treatable but often not preventable. Lifestyle changes such as lowering stress and increasing leisure time and exercise may lower the risk of having depression. It affects about 80% of people at some time in life and can occur at any age. It’s more common in women than in men.

What Causes Depression?

The cause is unknown. Probably, many things contribute to it. These include chemicals being out of balance in the brain; genetic, environmental, or developmental events; and biological and psychological factors. Drugs such as alcohol or downers can worsen it. Some medical conditions, such as thyroid disease and stroke, are also often related to depression.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

Symptoms include trouble sleeping, such as trouble falling asleep but more likely waking up very early in the morning for no reason. Less often, depression can involve too much sleep (people sleep most of the day).

Some people have less appetite, which leads to weight loss, but some people eat more. Other symptoms include losing interest in things; being unable to concentrate; feeling sad; having crying spells, often for no reason; feeling as if the future won’t be better; being agitated or restless; moving and speaking very slowly; and losing interest in sex.

Severe depression involves suicidal or homicidal thoughts or thinking or dreaming about death.

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

No laboratory tests or x-rays can diagnose depression. The health care provider makes a diagnosis from symptoms and past medical history.

How Is Depression Treated?

Treatment usually involves using medicines and talking to a therapist or psychiatrist (talking therapies). Medicines used are antidepressants. Some more common drugs are escitalopram, paroxetine, sertraline, fluoxetine, and citalopram. These are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Others are venlafaxine, duloxetine, and bupropion. Some drugs increase sleep and appetite, but it usually takes 2 to 3 weeks before these drugs help the depression. They also have side effects, such as weight gain, sexual problems, and nausea.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Depression:

  • DO lower your exposure to stress.
  • DO make sure you eat a healthy diet.
  • DO exercise regularly.
  • DO call your health care provider if your symptoms get worse.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have side effects from your medicines.
  • DO call your health care provider immediately if you have suicidal thoughts or thoughts about killing or hurting someone else.
  • DO call your health care provider immediately if you have psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there, or feeling paranoid.
  • DON’T use alcohol or drugs. These will increase your depression or interfere with certain drugs used to treat depression.
  • DON’T take any prescription or over-the-counter medicine without first checking with the health care provider who prescribed your medicine for depression.

Contact the following sources:

  • Mental Health America
    Tel: (800) 969-6642
  • American Psychiatric Association
  • National Mental Health Association

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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