What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that affects how someone thinks, feels and acts. Major depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the U.S. 

Types of depression include:

  • Depression that occurs after a woman gives birth
  • Seasonal depression that happens during winter months
  • Persistent depressive disorder with symptoms that last for two years
  • Psychotic depression that has a form of psychosis in addition to depression symptoms

Causes of depression

Depression is a brain disorder caused by conditions in the brain, genetic factors or stress. Certain medicine and health problems can also cause it. Specific parts of the brain play a big role in the development of depression. Hormone changes can also trigger depression in some people. These changes can occur during events such as pregnancy.

Risk factors of depression

Depression affects people of all age groups, ethnicities and socio-economic groups and can happen at any time. In the U.S. depression affects 7% of the population. However, the following factors increase a person's risk of developing depression:

Family history: People who have a personal or family history of depression have an increased risk of developing it.

Gender: Women are more likely than men to have symptoms of depression.

Health history: Depression sometimes appears at the same time as other health conditions, including Parkinson's disease, cancer and heart disease.

Medicine: Depression is a side effect of some medications, such as pain medications.

Stress: People dealing with divorce, job loss, death and money problems have an increased risk of depression.

Trauma: Going through a shocking event, even during childhood, increases the risk of depression.

Symptoms of depression

 No two people with depression have the same symptoms. However, the most common symptom is an ongoing feeling of sadness that lasts for at least two weeks. Other symptoms are:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Feelings guilty or worthless
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling restless
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Weight loss or weight gain

Diagnosis of depression

 Doctors as well as mental health experts like clinical social workers can spot depression. The patient goes through a complete health exam to ensure the symptoms aren't caused by another condition. The doctor will also check all the medicine the patient is taking to look for side effects.

Treatments for depression

 Treatments for depression vary depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms and the patient's health history. The doctor may prescribe medicine that changes the levels of chemicals in the brain and reduces the symptoms. However, it can take up to four weeks before the patient notices a change. In some cases, the patient may need to try several types of medicine to find the one that works best.

 Many patients turn to psychotherapy. Or they can rely on a combination of medication and counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy and problem-solving therapy, are helpful for treating depression. The doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes like getting more sleep. Daily workouts and new eating habits can also help.

 Severe cases of depression might not respond to usual treatments. The patient may need to undergo some type of brain stimulation therapy. The patient has electrodes attached to specific spots on the head. Electrical impulses are then transmitted to the brain.

Recovery from depression

For some patients, depression is a chronic condition. Others find that with time and treatment, their symptoms decrease. For best results, patients must follow the guidelines of their treatment team. They should also continue taking medication and going to counseling sessions even when they start feeling better.