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Healthy Living

Depression (Rodin's Thinker)

Depression - Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is depression?

A. Everyone gets the blues now and then. It's part of life. But when there is little joy or pleasure after visiting with friends or after seeing a good movie, there may be a more serious problem. A depressed mood that stays around for a while, without let-up, can change the way a person thinks or feels. Doctors call this "clinical depression."

Being "down in the dumps" over a period of time is not normal. A person who feels this way needs medical help. For most people, depression can be treated successfully. "Talk" therapies, drugs, or other methods of treatment can ease the pain of depression. There is no reason to suffer.

Q. What are the symptoms of depression?

A. When a person is clinically depressed, his or her ability to function both mentally and physically is affected, and the trouble may last for weeks, months or even years. Here is a list of the most common signs of depression. If several of these symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, see a doctor.

  • An "empty" feeling, ongoing sadness and anxiety
  • Tiredness, lack of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex
  • Sleep problems, including very early morning awakening
  • Problems with eating and weight (gain or loss)
  • A lot of crying
  • Aches and pains that just won't go away
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings that the future looks grim; feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless
  • Irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; a suicide attempt.

Symptoms vary widely among people and, sometimes, depression can hide behind a smiling face. Don't ignore the warning signs. At its worst, serious depression can lead to suicide. Listen carefully when a friend or relative complains about being depressed or of people not caring. The person may be telling you that he or she needs help.

Q. What causes depression?

A. There is no single cause of depression. For some people, just one event can bring on the illness. Others seem to become depressed for no clear reason. It appears to be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, and psychosocial factors.

Sometimes, people develop depression as a result of taking certain medications or with certain illnesses. Some drugs used to treat arthritis, heart problems, high blood pressure, and cancer can produce depression. The effects of these drugs may not always be clear right away. Scientists also think that some illnesses themselves can bring about depression. These include Parkinson's disease, stroke, and hormonal disorders such as thyroid disease.

Genetics, too, can play a role. Studies show that some forms of depression run in families. Children of depressed parents may be at a higher risk of getting the disease themselves.

Q. How is depression treated?

A. Depression is the most treatable of all mental illnesses. About 60 to 80 percent of depressed people can be treated successfully. Depending on the case, various kinds of therapies seem to work. Treatments such as psychotherapy and support groups help people deal with major changes in life. Several short-term (12-20 weeks) "talk" therapies have proven useful. One method helps patients recognize and change negative thinking patterns that have led to the depression. Another approach focuses on improving a patient's relationships with people as a way to reduce depression and feelings of despair.

Antidepressant drugs can also help. These medications can improve mood, sleep, appetite, and concentration. There are several types of these drugs available. Drug therapies often take at least 4 to 12 weeks before there are real signs of progress and may need to be continued for 6 months or longer after symptoms disappear.

Q. Where can I get help for depression?

A. The first step to getting help is to overcome negative attitudes that stand in the way. The subject of mental illness still makes many people uncomfortable. Some feel that getting help is a sign of weakness. Many people mistakenly believe that a depressed person can quickly "snap out of it" or that some people are too old to be helped.

Once the decision is made to get medical advice, start with the family doctor. The doctor, whether in private practice, a clinic, or a health maintenance organization, should decide if there are medical or drug-related reasons for the symptoms of depression. After a complete exam, the physician may refer the patient to a mental health specialist for further study and possible treatment. Be aware that some doctors may share some of the negative attitudes about depression and may not take the complaints seriously. Insist that your concerns be taken seriously or find a doctor who is willing to help.

If a depressed person refuses to go along with evaluation and treatment, relatives or friends can be reassuring. Explain how treatment will reduce symptoms and make the person feel better.

Don't avoid seeking help because you are afraid of how much treatment might cost. Often, the problem can be solved with weeks -- not months or years -- of therapy or medication. Also, community mental health centers offer treatment based on a patient's ability to pay.

For more information.....

You can find out more about depression and its treatment by contacting the following organizations:

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institute on Aging
National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc.
National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association 1-800-826-3632
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill 1-800-950-6264

This information was abstracted from Age Page, National Institute on Aging and from the National Institute of Mental Health.

All material contained in the FAQs is free of copyright restrictions, and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health; citation of the sources is appreciated.

The National Women's Health Information Center

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