Depression Frequently Asked Questions

What is Depression?

Depression is a prolonged, deep feeling of sadness. Depressive feelings such as discouragement or sadness are perfectly normal if they do not become too severe or last too long. Depression becomes a clinical problem if a person’s mood becomes too depressed or if the episode lasts more than two weeks. If there is any question about the severity of a person’s depression, a mental health professional or physician should evaluate them to rule out suicidal intent.

What Characteristics Come with Depression?

Depression includes some of the following characteristics:

  • Feeling sad, blue, or down
  • Loss of energy
  • Feeling restless
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unworthy
  • Increased sleep or decreased sleep
  • Feeling guilty
  • Insomnia or awakening during the night
  • Feeling helpless
  • Awakening earlier or later than normal
  • Feeling irritable
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, activities
  • Feeling lethargic
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Decreased ability to remember
  • Increase or decrease of appetite
  • Increase or decrease in weight
  • Thoughts of death
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Chronic pain
  • Lingering illness

Are there Genetic Factors that Can Come with Depression?

Depression tends to occur in families. If someone is depressed, it is twice as likely that a close relative has had or will have depression. Also, it is common to find problems like substance abuse or attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder in the close relatives of depressed people.

Does Depression Affect Males, Females, or Both?

Anyone, male or female, can get depressed. However, in the United States, women become depressed about twice as often as men.

At What Age Does Depression Appear?

Depression can strike a person at any age. Even small children can become depressed if they experience a serious loss such as the death of a parent. Depression is common among all ages.

How Prevalent is Depression?

Today, more than 10 million Americans are treated for depression.

How do Professionals Diagnose Depression?

A mental health professional arrives at the diagnosis of depression by taking a careful, personal history from the client. The personal history consists of the recent events associated with the depressed mood, a past history, and a family history. The professional may ask their client to complete a mood inventory or depression questionnaire. There are no laboratory tests necessary to diagnose depression nor are there any mandatory physical conditions. However, it is important to consider physical illnesses that might mimic or contribute to depression. If there is any possibility that the client may have a physical problem, the mental health professional should recommend a complete physical examination by a medical doctor. It is common 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.

A personal significant loss can trigger a depressed mood. Sometimes a chemical imbalance in the brain causes depression. The chemical imbalances that we associate with depression resemble chemical imbalances in the body that we associate with other common diseases such as diabetes.

How do People Treat Depression?

Although some depression may go away on its own, people with depression can greatly benefit from treatment. The treatment for depression consists of psychotherapy, medication, or both. A friend or family member who encourages the depressed person to seek professional help may be a lifesaver. Many people cannot lift themselves out of their depression alone. They need the care and empathy of friends and family, and many benefit from the help of a mental health professional.

Most people treat depression in an outpatient setting. However, seriously depressed people who have thoughts of suicide must be considered for immediate hospitalization. Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously, since suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

Many people with depression feel relief after their initial session of therapy. However, it generally takes at least a couple of weeks after beginning therapy before people begin to feel better.

Depression treatment can sometimes be enhanced with prescribed medications called antidepressants. It usually takes ten to fourteen days before most people begin to appreciate the benefit of the antidepressants.

What Happens to Someone with Depression?

Some people will experience only one significant depressive episode for which they receive treatment, and they may never have another episode. Other people may have recurrent bouts of depression that require intermittent treatment throughout their lives. Others suffer from chronic depression and have to remain in therapy and/or on medication for many years.

Developed by John L. Miller, MD
Reviewed 7/2000

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