Learning about depression

Depression is feeling sad, blue, unhappy, or down in the dumps. Most people feel this way once in a while.

Clinical depression is a mood disorder. It is when these feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration get in the way of your life for a long period of time. It also changes your body’s function.

Depression is a disease caused by changes in the chemicals in your brain. Depression may begin during or after a painful event in your life. It may happen when you take certain medicines. It can start after pregnancy.

Sometimes there is no clear trigger or reason.

What Are the Signs of Depression?

Most people will sometimes notice the problems described below. If several of these symptoms last for 2 weeks or longer, talk to your doctor.

You will always have changes in your daily moods or feelings when you are depressed. You may:

  • Feel sad or blue most or all of the time
  • Feel bad-tempered or irritable most of the time, with sudden bursts of anger
  • Not enjoy activities that normally make you happy, including sex
  • Feel hopeless or helpless
  • Not feel good about yourself, or have feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt

Normal daily activities are also changed when you are depressed. You may:

  • Have trouble sleeping or sleep more than normal
  • Have a hard time concentrating
  • Move around more slowly or seem "jumpy" or agitated
  • Feel much less hungry than before, or even lose weight
  • Feel tired and lack energy
  • Become less active or stop doing usual activities

A dangerous sign of depression are thoughts of death or suicide. Always talk to a friend or family member and call your doctor when you have these feelings.

Taking Care of Your Depression at Home

Whether or not your doctor gives you medicines to treat your depression, you can do a lot at home:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Follow a healthy, nutritious diet.
  • Take medicines correctly. Learn how to manage side effects.
  • Learn to watch for early signs that depression is getting worse. Have a plan if it does.
  • Try to exercise more. Look for activities that make you happy. Have good sleep habits.

Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. These can make depression worse over time. They may also impair your judgment about suicide.

When struggling with depression, talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Try to be around people who are caring and positive. Try volunteering or getting involved in group activities.

If you are depressed in the fall or winter, ask your doctor about light therapy. It uses a special lamp that acts like the sun.

Taking Medicines for Depression

Some people with depression may feel better after taking antidepressants for a few weeks. But many people need to take medicines for depression for 4 - 9 months. They need this to get a full response and prevent depression from coming back.

If you need them, you should take antidepressant medicines every day. Your doctor may need to change which medicine you are taking or the dosage.

Don’t stop taking your medicine on your own, even if you feel better or have side effects. Always call your doctor first. When it is time to stop your medicine, you and your doctor will slowly reduce the dose instead of stopping suddenly.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy and counseling can help many people with depression. Talk therapy is a good place to talk about feelings and thoughts. It also helps you learn ways to deal with them.

There are many different types of talk therapy. Often, the most effective treatment will include all of these:

  • Talk therapy
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medicine


Fava M, Cassano P. Mood disorders: Major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Fava M, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 29.

American Psychiatric Association. Practice guidelines for the treatment of patients with major depressive disorder. 2nd ed. September 2007. Accessed January 22, 2010.

Little A. Treatment-resistant depression. Am Fam Physician. 2009;80:167-172.

Update Date: 11/11/2012

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.



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