The Basics of Depression

The Basics of Depression

While feeling blue or sad is normal for everyone, those feelings are generally short-lived, have a clear reason behind them and don't interfere with daily life long-term. Depression, on the other hand, is a serious, but treatable, illness that causes symptoms that don't go away on their own and can interfere significantly with day-to-day life. Depression can affect anyone, but is more common in women than men and the risk of depression increases with age. Although depression is more common in adults, children and teens can also suffer from depression. Many people with depression seek treatment, but many others do not, and, unlike normal periods of sadness, depression doesn't go away on its own without treatment, and in many cases gets worse.

Types of Depression

There are several types of depression, or depressive disorders, diagnosed based on symptoms and other related criteria. Major depression causes severe symptoms that may significantly interfere with daily life, including work, social and family life. Episodes of major depression can occur once a year or more, with most people experiencing several episodes per year.

Other types of depression include persistent depressive disorder, which is characterized by depression that lasts for at least two years, with episodes of major depression alternating with less severe episodes of depression, and bipolar disorder (manic depression), characterized by cycling moods between extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). Postpartum depression is another type of depression, occurring in 10 to 15 percent of women who have recently given birth, and is a result of rapid hormone changes.

Common Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression can vary greatly from person to person, but general symptoms may include feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, guilty, ashamed, worthless, irritable and/or restless, fatigue, lack of interest in hobbies or activities, difficulty concentrating or remembering things, overeating or loss of appetite and thoughts of death, dying or suicide. Physical symptoms may also be present, including headaches, body aches, cramps and stomach upset that do not respond to treatment. Symptoms may change in intensity and frequency over time, depending on the type and severity of the depression.

Many people with depression report that symptoms interfere significantly with daily life, and may even be damaging to social, family or work relationships. Fatigue and exhaustion can make performing daily tasks difficult, often resulting in missed days at work or repeated canceling of plans with friends or family.

Depression Treatment

Depression is a serious illness, but treatments are available to help ease symptoms and restore quality of life. Treatment options will depend on the type and severity of the depression, as well as the overall health and medical history of the patient. Treatment options typically include medication, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or a combination of various treatments. The most common treatment methods are medication or a combination of medication and psychotherapy. This combination has been found most effective in people with major depression or other depressive disorders.

When medication and/or psychotherapy doesn't adequately relieve symptoms of depression, electroconvulsive therapy may be considered. Though ECT has a poor reputation, many people with treatment-resistant depression have had good results with this type of treatment. ECT is usually performed under anesthesia and a muscle relaxant, and the patient will typically sleep through the entire treatment. Most people will undergo several sessions of ECT per week, depending on the severity of the depression. Antidepressants and therapy will likely be prescribed alongside ECT, and ECT will gradually be tapered down over time. If you are experiencing treatment-resistant depression, your doctor can help you decide whether ECT is right for you.

Risk Factors for Depression

While no one knows exactly what causes some people to develop depression while others do not, there are certain risk factors that increase the chances of getting depression. Risk factors for depression include having a family history of depression, alcohol and tobacco use, being female, having a physical illness or other mental health condition and having trauma in early childhood. Certain medications may also cause depression, and research shows that people who are divorced or separated have a higher chance of becoming depressed than those who are single or married. Other factors, such as job loss or unemployment and other financial stress can increase the likelihood of depression, as well.

Keep in mind however, that not everyone who has risk factors for depression will develop a depressive disorder, and some people with depressive disorders have no risk factors at all. If you're concerned about your risk factors for major depression or other depressive disorders, talk to your doctor about ways you can minimize or reduce your risk. While some risk factors are beyond your control, others, such as smoking tobacco or using alcohol, can be eliminated to reduce your risk of depression.