Feelings of sadness or "having the blues" usually pass within a few days. However, depression is a serious but common illness that interferes with your daily life. It can lead to both emotional and physical problems.
When you have continual feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, you could be experiencing depression. This illness affects how you behave, feel and think. It can hamper your ability to go about your day-to-day activities.
Many people with depression don't seek treatment, but there is help available. If your symptoms continue for more than two weeks, reach out to your doctor. There are numerous depression treatments and medications that have been proven to help those affected.
Types of depression
Major depressive disorder, the most common form of depression, can be a disabling illness. People who have major depressive disorder suffer from symptoms that affect their ability to work, eat, sleep, study and enjoy activities they once found pleasurable.
Mild chronic depression, also called dysthymic disorder, occurs when someone experiences symptoms for a long time, which could mean a few years, but often lasts for longer periods. Although its symptoms are less severe than major depression, it does impair the person's ability to function normally and feel well. If you have mild chronic disorder, you could still experience major depression once or more during your life.
Other types of depression include:
- Psychotic depression, in which hallucinations, delusions and other feelings of withdrawing from reality accompany severe depression
- Postpartum depression, when a mother experiences a major depressive episode within a few weeks of giving birth
- Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, when someone develops a depressive illness during the winter months
- Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic-depressive illness, which is when someone experiences moments of extreme highs and lows
Depression is a disorder of the brain. Its exact causes can be difficult to determine, but often it involves a combination of genetic, environmental, biological and psychological factors.
Sometimes it runs in families, but this isn't always the case. Scientists are researching genes that may cause depression. Researchers also believe a stressful episode like the loss of a loved one or a difficult relationship can trigger major depression. Sometimes, however, there's no trigger involved.
There are many signs of depression. You may feel sad or anxious, or suffer from feelings of pessimism, guilt or hopelessness that don't go away. Some people experience memory problems. Others can't get to sleep or stay asleep. Another possible symptom is a loss of interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy, including sex.
Physical symptoms are also possible, such as headaches, chronic pain and digestive disorders that aren't responding to regular treatment.
Talk with your doctor if you notice feelings of sadness and other symptoms that don't go away after two weeks. Sometimes there may be other causes, including a thyroid disorder or medications you are taking. Your doctor will give you an exam and lab tests to rule out these possibilities. If there's nothing else wrong, your doctor may send you for a psychological examination by a mental health professional.
If you have depression, talk with your doctor about possible strategies and or depression medications to help you lead a normal lifestyle.
Your doctor may prescribe medication. Antidepressants mainly work on chemicals in the brain to change your mood. A common type of antidepressant is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is considered safer and usually causes fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants. Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro are well-known SSRI brand names.
Your doctor may prescribe a different type of depression medication or a combination of drugs for example SNRIs serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors like Cymbalta or Effexor. There may be prescription adjustments in order to find a solution that is most effective for you and that you can tolerate.
Follow your doctor's instructions carefully. Keep in mind that some drugs may take eight weeks or so before the full effect for you becomes clear. Your symptoms may worsen if you stop taking your medication suddenly.
For more information about depression and to read about common depression medications and view available drug discounts, visit our Depression conditions page.