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Depression is a relatively common condition that’s thought to affect around 5% of adults around the world.

It can be a severe medical illness that causes significant sadness and despair. It can affect how you think and act and impair your social and professional life.

If depression is severe, it can have a lasting impact on your ability to function or work. There are many potential treatments for depression, including therapy and medications, and many people find that simple lifestyle changes improve the symptoms of mild depression.

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What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, but when it becomes a pervasive mood that impacts your daily life, it could be that something more serious is going on. Some of the most typical signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or having a continuous low mood
  • Not taking pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in your appetite, including an increased or decreased appetite
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or anxious
  • Slowed speech and movement
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation

Suppose these symptoms persist for at least two weeks, represent a change in your level of functioning, and are not caused by other medical conditions such as thyroid problems or vitamin deficiencies. In that case, you may be diagnosed with depression.

Depression is a spectrum, and it’s possible to suffer from mild, moderate, or severe depression depending on your symptoms’ severity and the extent to which they impact your daily life. If you have pervasive sadness and regular suicidal thoughts, this may indicate that you’re suffering from severe depression.

What is it like to live with depression?

For most people who suffer from depression, it becomes a shadow that affects every aspect of their lives. Depression is a pervasive and continuous low mood that can last for months or years. It impacts people’s abilities to form relationships, concentrate and complete tasks, look after themselves, and enjoy hobbies.

When people are very depressed, they might find it hard to work up the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. This makes them more likely to be late for work or to skip daily self-care routines such as showering. They might suffer from low confidence, which prevents them from attending social events and speaking to new people, stopping them from forming new relationships.

People suffering from acute or severe depression may also have a lot of negative thoughts about themselves and the people around them. They may feel they are worthless or don’t deserve to be happy. This can stop people from enjoying their lives and cause insomnia. Depression can also trigger physical aches and pains, including headaches, nausea, and joint pain.

Who is most likely to suffer from depression?

Anyone can suffer from depression, including children and young people. It’s thought that one in six people experience depression at some time in their life, but the number may even be higher than this. Depression most commonly appears during the late teens and mid-20s, but people who have never experienced depression before can experience it at any time in life.

Depression affects women more than men, and people with close family members with a history of depression are also more likely to experience depression at some point. Depression can occur for no particular reason or be triggered by stressful or challenging life events such as losing a job or the death of a loved one.

Some people may be more likely to suffer from depression if they display risk factors for this condition. Typical risk factors for depression include:

  • Biochemistry, or chemicals in the brain
  • Genetics, if you have a family history of depression
  • Personality, if you are easily stressed, anxious, or suffer from low self-esteem
  • Environmental factors, such as your upbringing, lifestyle, or financial situation

It’s important to remember that anyone can suffer from depression at any time, regardless of these risk factors and trends.

Is it depression or sadness?

When you experience extreme sadness or grief following a tragic event, such as the loss of a loved one or the breakup of a relationship, it can be difficult to tell the difference between depression and grief. Sadness following the death of a family member, pet, or friend is very normal and not a cause for concern in itself.

Feeling very sad is not the same as having depression. Depression is a low mood with clinical signs usually accompanied by other symptoms, such as withdrawal from usual activities and poor concentration. Depression can be triggered by severe or tragic events such as a loss, but the sadness people experience directly following a loss is not the same as depression.

Treatments for depression

Depression is a very treatable mental health disorder, and there are lots of different treatments available depending on the cause of your depression and the severity of your symptoms. Most patients feel at least some relief from the symptoms of depression after undergoing treatment. However, trying different medicines or therapies may be necessary to see what works best for them.

Before deciding which treatments to try, a doctor will speak with the patient to understand the symptoms they’re experiencing and ascertain facts about the patient’s background and medical history. They might conduct a brief physical examination, including weight and blood pressure, to check that the patient can take medication safely. After this, the doctor might recommend medication, therapy, or other treatments.

Medication for depression

Depression is sometimes caused by imbalances in brain chemicals that can be resolved efficiently by taking anti-depressant medication. Even if your brain chemistry doesn’t cause your depression, anti-depressants may help you to function better and stabilize your mood. You don’t have to continue taking anti-depressant medication forever once you start. However, if you decide to stop taking your medication, you should only do so under the advice of a doctor.

There are lots of different types of anti-depressant medications approved by the FDA. The type of medication that a doctor prescribes will depend on how severe your symptoms are, your medical history, and what has worked for you in the past. Common medications include:

  • SSRIs, including Celexa, Prozac, and Zoloft
  • SNRIs, including Cymbalta and Fetzima
  • Tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil and Vivactil
  • Atypical antidepressants, such as Serzone and Remeron

Anti-depressant medication does not make people happy or energized, but it can help reduce the severity of low moods. Anti-depressant medications may not relieve the symptoms of depression straight away, instead taking two to three months to work properly. There may also be adverse side effects associated with taking some anti-depressants, but these usually abate after the first few weeks. If a particular medication isn’t working or the side effects are too difficult to deal with, your doctor may be able to alter your dose or recommend an alternative medication.

Some people take anti-depressant medications for a few months, while others may take them for several years or even decades. People with recurring or severe depression may take anti-depressants on a long-term basis to prevent reoccurrences in the future.

Therapy for depression

Therapy is often considered beneficial as a treatment for depression, either by itself or in conjunction with medication. Different types of therapy might be used to help patients to identify the cause of their depression and to find effective coping mechanisms to help them to manage the symptoms of their depression in everyday life. Some of the most common types of therapy that a doctor might recommend for depression include:

Talking therapies like CBT can help people to recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking that result in feelings of worthlessness and guilt and correct these when they occur. For example, if you’re always having negative thoughts and putting yourself down, your therapist can help you to make positive affirmations that dispel these negative thoughts and improve your mood.

Some people might choose to attend group therapy sessions as well as individual therapy sessions. Group therapy sessions invite people struggling with depression to talk about their feelings and share their stories within a group setting. This can be especially helpful for people who may be struggling with loneliness and isolation as a result of their depression.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

While ECT has gained a negative reputation in the media, it’s still considered a helpful treatment for very specific cases of depression. ECT is usually recommended for patients with severe depression and other mental health disorders where alternative treatments such as medication and therapy are ineffective. ECT involves stimulating the brain using electrical currents while a patient is under anesthesia. ECT can be carried out six to 12 times, and teams of trained medical professionals with particular training only carry it out.

How to take care of yourself if you have depression

If you’re suffering from depression, it’s essential to speak to a medical professional to ascertain the cause and type of depression that you’re suffering from. Alongside medication and therapy, your doctor might recommend that you make small, simple changes to your lifestyle to try and boost your mood and relieve the symptoms of depression. These changes might not cure your depression but can help in the short term. Some ways to take care of yourself when you’re experiencing depression include:

  • Getting enough sleep every night
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting plenty of exercises and going outside
  • Making time for primary daily care

By looking after yourself when you have depression, you can minimize the impact of your depression on your daily life and give yourself the best chance of recovering from your depression when you’re ready.

What other types of disorders involve depressive episodes?

Depression is a clinical diagnosis, but some other disorders and conditions can sometimes look like depression because they share many of the same symptoms. These disorders may sometimes be considered depressive disorders or even types of depression.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)

Women who suffer from PMDD suffer from depression alongside anxiety and irritability around the week before their period. Symptoms of PMDD include mood swings, lack of energy, tension, and poor concentration. PMDD is easily differentiated from depression because the symptoms of PMDD only occur around a woman’s period, usually for 7 to 10 days preceding it. PMDD can be treated with antidepressant medications or birth control pills that may help women control the chemicals in their bodies that trigger these mood swings.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings. People with bipolar disorder can go from extreme highs to extreme lows very suddenly, resulting in impulsive and irrational behaviors and the inability to think clearly. The extreme lows of bipolar disorder may have much in common with depression. Still, these are always counterbalanced by upswings in the mood when the patient may feel euphoric, irritable, or highly energized. Bipolar disorders are usually treated with a combination of medication and therapy.

Seasonal depression

Seasonal depression, which is sometimes called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a type of depression that commonly affects people in the winter months. It’s thought to be triggered by the changing seasons and may result from low levels of sunlight and vitamin D during the darker winter months. Some people find that SAD lamps may relieve seasonal depression in the winter. SAD lamps use light therapy to replicate natural sunlight. Like other types of depression, seasonal depression may be mild, moderate, or severe.

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression is a type of depressive disorder that affects women after childbirth. Postpartum depression usually occurs within the first few days after delivery and can last for months. It’s normal to feel a little sad or low in the first weeks after giving birth because a woman’s hormones are still very much in flux at this stage. Postpartum depression is a more severe and long-lasting depressive disorder that can affect a mother’s ability to bond with her baby and may also lead to mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, lack of appetite, and irritability. In very severe cases, some mothers may experience postpartum psychosis.

Disruptive mood regulation disorder

Disruptive mood regulation disorder is a depressive disorder that can occur in children between 6 and 18 years old. Rather than presenting with symptoms of sadness and despair, children with this disorder may experience frequent temper outbursts and severe, chronic irritability. These outbursts may make family life very difficult and may also make it hard for children to excel in school or to make friends. Common treatments for disruptive mood regulation disorder include medication and therapy.