What is depression?
When a person has a depressive disorder, it hurts their daily life, normal functioning, and causes pain for both the person with the disorder and those who care about him or her. Depression is a common but serious illness, and most who have it need treatment to get better.
What are the different types of depression?
Different kinds of depression include:
- Major depressive disorder. Also called major depression, this is a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities.
- Dysthymic disorder. Also called dysthymia, this kind of depression lasts for a long time (two years or longer). The symptoms are less severe than major depression but can prevent one from living normally or feeling well.
Some forms of depressive disorder exhibit slightly different characteristics than those described above, or they may develop under unique circumstances. However, not all scientists agree on how to characterize and define these forms of depression. They include:
- Psychotic depression, which occurs when a severe depressive illness is accompanied by some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality, hallucinations, and delusions.
- Postpartum depression, which is diagnosed if a new mother develops a major depressive episode within one month after delivery.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight.
Symptoms of depression
Symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- 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
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment
Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The sooner treatment begins, the more effective it is.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications, and some medical conditions (such as viruses or a thyroid disorder), can cause the same symptoms as depression. A doctor can rule out these possibilities with a physical exam, by asking questions, and lab tests. If the doctor can rule out a medical condition as a cause, he or she should conduct a psychological exam or refer the patient to a mental health professional.
The doctor or mental health professional will conduct a complete diagnostic exam. He or she should discuss any family history of depression, and get a complete history of symptoms. He or she should also ask if the patient is using alcohol or drugs, and whether the patient is thinking about death or suicide.
The most common treatments for depression are medication (antidepressants) and psychotherapy.