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Just about everyone feels sad or "blue" on occasion. Usually, these feelings are temporary and go away after a short time.

If your feelings are more intense or last for a longer time, it could be depression. When a person has depression, it interferes with daily activities and can also affect your relationships with others.

Depression is a common, but serious, illness. It is likely caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Types of Depressive Disorders

  • Major depressive disorder, or major depression: a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, eat, sleep and enjoy other activities. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.
  • Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia: long-term (2 years or longer) symptoms that may not create disability but can still prevent normal functioning or feeling well. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.
  • Minor depression: symptoms that last 2 weeks or longer that do not meet full criteria for major depression. Without treatment, people with minor depression are at high risk for developing major depressive disorder.

Other Forms of Depression

  • Psychotic depression: occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).
  • Postpartum depression: this is more serious than the "baby blues" many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.
  • Bipolar disorder: this is also called manic-depressive illness. It is not as common as major depression or dysthymia, and it is characterized by cycling mood changes from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression).

Signs and Symptoms

  • Sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings that are ongoing
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or helpless
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
  • Fatigue, decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.


If you experience signs and symptoms of depression, the best place to start is to visit with a healthcare provider or mental health specialist.

Certain medications, and some medical conditions can cause the same symptoms as depression. A healthcare provider can do a physical exam, interview with you or lab tests to see if you have a medical condition. If there is no medical cause to the symptoms, you may be referred to a mental health professional, who can talk to you about any family history of depression or other mental disorder, and get a complete history of your symptoms.

You may be asked questions such as:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • How long have your symptoms lasted?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • Has this happened before?

The mental health professional may also ask about alcohol or drug use or if you have been treated for depression or other conditions in the past.

Sometimes, depression can happen at the same time as other conditions like anxiety disorders, panic disorder, social phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can/may occur after someone goes through a traumatic physical or emotional event like an accident, assault, natural disaster, terrorism or military combat. People experiencing PTSD are at higher risk of also having depression.

Because physical health and mental health are connected, depression can may occur with other serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. People with a medical illness and with depression tend to have more severe symptoms and even higher medical costs than those who do not have both conditions. Treating the depression can also help improve treatment for the illness.

Taking Care of Yourself

  • If you are experiencing symptoms, don't wait to get help. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.
  • Stay active and participate in hobbies or events that you enjoy.
  • To keep from getting overwhelmed: Set realistic goals and break up large tasks into smaller ones.
  • Spend time with people. Talk with a trusted friend or family member. Let others help you.
  • Remember that change may come slowly. Your mood will improve gradually. During treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will often begin to improve before your mood gets better.
  • Postpone important decisions until you feel better. Talk with someone you trust that you know can provide an objective view.
  • Positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.



Source: National Institute of Mental Health