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Depression – What is It?

Depression is more than just feeling sad or having a temporary low mood. It’s a serious, chronic medical condition that affects every area of your life. If left untreated, depression can be very debilitating and may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts. If you have depression, seek treatment as soon as possible.

Having depression is not your fault and it’s not a sign of weakness. It’s an illness that can be treated with medication or psychotherapy (counseling). Often, a combination of treatments is best. Depression can affect people of all ages, races and backgrounds. It can cause feelings of sadness, guilt and hopelessness that interfere with your everyday life. It can make you irritable, angry or withdrawn. It can also cause physical problems such as fatigue, headaches, back pain, stomach problems and a change in appetite. Depression can also increase the risk of drug and alcohol use.

Although the exact causes of depression aren’t known, researchers believe that a combination of factors can contribute to it. This includes genetics, environment and lifestyle. Having a family history of depression puts you at a higher risk for developing the disorder. Living in a stressful or violent household can also put you at greater risk for depression. Losing a job or having a major health problem can trigger depression, as can long-term illness or isolation.

A person who is depressed might feel sad, irritable or anxious for weeks or months at a time. It’s common for these feelings to come and go, but if you’re having them regularly and they are getting in the way of your daily activities, it might be a sign that you have depression. Other signs of depression include a lack of energy or interest in activities, difficulty sleeping, weight changes, suicidal thoughts or attempts, poor performance at school or work, memory or personality changes, withdrawal from friends and family, substance abuse, self-harm and more.

Many things can help you manage depression, including exercise, meditation, yoga and tai chi. Talking with a trusted friend or loved one, a mental health professional or a support group can also be helpful. You can find groups through local health care providers, employee assistance programs and faith leaders.

Some people have depression so severe that they need hospital or residential treatment. This is especially true if you have difficulty taking care of yourself, are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or others or are having thoughts about suicide. Your doctor might also recommend ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or transcranial magnetic stimulation, which sends electric currents through your brain to stimulate neurotransmitters. These treatments usually don’t begin until other antidepressant medications haven’t worked for you. It can take several weeks to see results from these treatments.

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