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What Is Depression?

Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness that can strike a person at any age but is quite common in adolescence and adulthood. Also, it is not unusual to find depression in the geriatric population where loss is so evident.

Symptoms of Depression

Individuals with depression do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness 
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

What causes depression?

Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Some types of depression tend to run in families. However, depression can occur in people without family histories of depression too.

How is depression diagnosed?

A mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of depression by taking a careful, personal history from the individual. The personal history consists of the recent events associated with the depressed mood, a past history, and a family history. The individual may be asked to complete a mood inventory or depression questionnaire. There are no laboratory tests necessary to diagnose depression nor are there any physical conditions that must be met. However, it is very important not to overlook a physical illness that might imitate or contribute to depression. If there is any possibility that the individual may have a physical problem, the mental health professional will recommend a complete physical examination by a medical doctor. It is not uncommon for people with depression to have symptoms of physical illness. Many physicians make the diagnosis of depression while attempting to find the cause of a patient's headache, fatigue, sleep, or other physical problems.

How is depression treated?

The treatment for depression consists of therapy, medication, or both. Most depression is treated in an outpatient setting. However, seriously depressed people who have thoughts of suicide must be considered for immediate hospitalization. A friend or family member who encourages the depressed person to seek professional help may be a lifesaver. Many individuals cannot lift themselves out of their depression alone.

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