Many things can make you sad. Of course, life-changing events like divorce or unemployment can take a toll on your spirits. But even everyday stress — a fight, troubles at work — can affect your mood too. Even happy milestones, like becoming a mom or retiring, can make you feel anxious or blue.
The American Psychiatric Association estimates that one in ten Americans suffer from depression1. Women are twice as likely to become depressed as men are. Depression can strike anyone, from teens to seniors.
A combination of factors can trigger depression. One is brain chemistry. Scientists believe that depression is caused by an imbalance of two chemicals in the brain, serotonin and norepinephrine2. But they aren’t sure how these chemicals play a role.
Depression tends to run in families too. If you’re a woman, hormones can play a role, especially after you’ve given birth or gone through menopause. A chronic illness like diabetes or cancer can cause depression, especially among older adults. One of the side effects of medications can be depression.
No matter what the cause of your condition is, your doctor can help you find the triggers — and the treatment.
Getting sad over something, no matter how big or small, is normal. Usually, you can shake it off in a day or so. Even feelings of grief over the death of a loved one (two-legged or four-legged) fade over time.
Depression is different. Those sad feelings last weeks, months, even years. You feel hopeless and worthless. Your emotions begin to interfere with your daily life. You eat more — or don’t eat at all. You can’t fall asleep — or you sleep all the time. And even if the situation gets better, you still can’t shake off the negative feelings.
It’s important to recognize all the symptoms of depression3. That way, you can get help from family and from a doctor. A doctor will also want to know how long you’ve been feeling this way — and how intense those feelings are.
So what are the signs of depression? Besides feeling hopeless and empty, you may be tired all the time. Things that once made you happy — like going to the movies or working in the garden — no longer do. You get irritated over every little thing and feel restless or anxious all the time.
Some people have trouble remembering things or making decisions. Or they can’t go about their daily routine — even taking a shower is exhausting.
Losing your sex drive is a sign. So are feelings of guilt and chronic headaches or stomach problems. But the biggest sign is thinking of suicide. If you believe no one would care if you died, then you should call a doctor right away.
First off, your doctor will probably rule out a medical reason for your depression, like low thyroid or Lyme disease. If there’s no medical cause, your doctor will probably refer you to a specialist.
The specialist may treat you with antidepressants or counseling or a combination of the two. Usually, if you’re just mildly depressed, then the specialist will recommend counseling. If your depression is more serious, then the doctor will recommend medication too. Usually teenagers and older adults do better with a combined approach.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)4 is a type of talk therapy that works well on people with depression. CBT helps you change your patterns of negative thinking. You learn to deal with situations and people in a more positive way.
Medications for depression regulate the chemical imbalance in your brain, especially with your serotonin and norepinephrine levels.
Antidepressants work very differently in each person, so your doctor may have to try more than one to see which one’s right for you. Your doctor may also prescribe another medicine to take with the antidepressant such as a mood stabilizer or anti-anxiety medicine.
Sometimes it takes as many as six to eight weeks to see real improvement. Take the medicine exactly as recommended. Don't stop taking it without talking to your doctor. Discuss any concerns, especially about side effects. Side effects can decrease over time, and your doctor may be able to offer some simple ways to reduce them. Also make sure the doctor knows of anything else you are taking, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements.
Besides getting help from a mental-health pro, you can join a support group or take part in group therapy. Just knowing you’re not alone can be a mood-booster.
Changing your habits can help too. Exercise increases the levels of serotonin in your brain, so make sure you stay active. Get plenty of sleep and stay away from alcohol, which can make you feel worse. Stick to a healthy diet — too much junk food can cause sugar highs and crashes.
Volunteering can also increase your feelings of well-being. Whether you help out at your church, an animal shelter, or a hospital, you’ll feel connected to something larger than yourself. And bringing about positive changes, big or small, can make you feel a whole lot better about yourself.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not replace treatment or advice from a healthcare professional. If you have questions, please talk with your doctor.
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