What Is Depression?
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. The good thing is, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work, school and at home.
There are several possible causes of depression. They can range from biological to circumstantial.
Common causes include:
- Brain chemistry. There may be a chemical imbalance in parts of the brain that manage mood, thoughts, sleep, appetite, and behavior in people who have depression.
- Hormone levels. Changes in female hormones estrogen and progesterone during different periods of time like during the menstrual cycle, postpartum period, perimenopause, or menopause may all raise a person’s risk for depression.
- Family history. You’re at a higher risk for developing depression if you have a family history of depression or another mood disorder.
- Early childhood trauma. Some events affect the way your body reacts to fear and stressful situations.
- Brain structure. There’s a greater risk for depression if the frontal lobe of your brain is less active. However, scientists don’t know if this happens before or after the onset of depressive symptoms.
- Medical conditions. Certain conditions may put you at higher risk, such as chronic illness, insomnia, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, heart attack, and cancer.
- Substance use. A history of substance or alcohol misuse can affect your risk.
- Pain. People who feel emotional or chronic physical pain for long periods of time are significantly more likely to develop depression.
Symptoms of Depression:
- Feeling sad or having a negative mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite — some persons over eat while some skip meals
- Weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
- Trouble sleeping or over sleeping
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (these actions must be severe enough to be observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Risk Factors :
Depression can affect anyone—even a person who appears to live in relatively ideal circumstances.
Several factors can play a role in depression:
- Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.
- Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life.
- Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily overwhelmed by stress, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more likely to experience depression.
- Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.
When to see a doctor
If you feel depressed, make an appointment to see your doctor or mental health professional as soon as you can. If you’re reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a close friend or loved one, any health care professional, a faith leader, or someone else you trust.
When to get emergency help
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, call your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your doctor or mental health professional.
- Call the local suicide hotline number — in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If you have a loved one who is in danger of suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.