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A Guide to Care and Support for Depression
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, your thoughts and actions and your ability to function at work and home. Although it is often misdiagnosed, it can be treated and prevented with medicine or therapy. Our guide to care and support helps you understand depression and get the help you need.
Depression causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy. It also interferes with your sleep, appetite and energy levels. It may also cause physical pain and make it harder to focus on daily tasks. The symptoms of depression last for more than two weeks and are a significant change from your normal behavior. Depression can be difficult to recognize and is different from occasional moodiness or short-lived emotional responses to life events.
It is believed that depression is caused by a combination of factors. A chemical imbalance in certain brain chemicals plays a role, but genes and life experiences are also important. Some people are more vulnerable to developing depression than others. Depression can be triggered by stressful or traumatic life events, including the death of a loved one, being fired from a job, having financial difficulties or going through a divorce. People with other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, also may be at a greater risk of depression.
Many people do not seek treatment for depression because of the stigma associated with mental illness or a lack of access to health care providers who can diagnose and treat the condition. As a result, more than 75% of those who need treatment do not receive it in low- and middle-income countries.
The most effective treatment for depression includes medicine and psychotherapy or counseling, sometimes both. Medicine works by affecting the chemicals in the brain that regulate mood. It takes 4 to 6 weeks for antidepressant medicines to start working. It is important to continue taking them, even if they don’t seem to be helping right away.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help you learn healthier ways to cope with problems and improve your relationships. It can also teach you to identify and manage stressors that trigger depression. There are several types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral and interpersonal therapy. Some types of therapy are group-based, and others are family or couple-based.
ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy, is used to treat severe and life-threatening depression that doesn’t respond to medicine. In this procedure, a small electrical current is passed through the brain to trigger a brief seizure that helps restore the balance of brain chemicals.