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What is Depression?

What is Depression?

Depression is an illness caused by problems with the chemicals in your brain. This chemical imbalance affects how you feel, think, and act. So it’s wrong to see depression as a weakness or character flaw. Research has shown that it’s a medical illness just like diabetes or high blood pressure. There’s a lot of variety in how people experience depression.

It can be mild or severe. You might have it only once in your lifetime, have several episodes over time, or have ongoing depression. Your symptoms may differ from those of other people with depression.

Despite its various patterns, you should always take depression seriously. Untreated, depression can make it hard to be a good spouse, friend, or parent. It can hurt you at work and prevent you from taking care of yourself. It can prompt you to pull back from the world — and may even lead to suicide.

The good news? Depression can be treated. Most people CAN recover and lead full, productive lives.

What are the symptoms of depression?

If you have depression, you’ll probably experience several of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling down, hopeless, irritable, or out of sorts 
  • Taking little interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy 
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much 
  • Feeling tired or having little energy 
  • A poor appetite or overeating 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Wanting to be alone more 
  • Moving or speaking so slowly that other people may notice, or feeling so restless that you move around a lot more than usual 
  • Feeling bad about yourself — thinking you’re a failure or that you’ve let yourself or others down

These symptoms may make it difficult for you to do your work or take care of things at home. You may have trouble getting along with others. In the worst cases, your symptoms may lead you to have thoughts of hurting yourself, or even think that you’d be better off dead.

What brings on depression?

We know depression is caused by changes in brain chemistry. But we DON’T know what triggers these changes in the first place. Still, studies do show that several factors seem to make a person more likely to develop depression:

  • A family history of depression 
  • An unhappy event, such as a death or divorce 
  • Certain personality traits or patterns of thinking 
  • Long-term use of some medications, or alcohol or drug abuse

While these factors may raise your chance of depression, depression also happens to people who have none of them, and “no reason” to feel down. The onset of depression is highly individual and often unpredictable.

Do other illnesses co-exist with depression?

Studies show that depression often occurs in people with other ailments, for example:

  • Physical illnesses. Depression occurs at a higher-than-normal rate in people who have had heart attacks, cancer, and strokes. It’s also more common in people with lifelong diseases such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and asthma. Unfortunately, depression is often overlooked in these cases. This can lead to poor self-care, slower recovery, and unnecessary suffering.
  • Other mental health disorders. People with depression are more likely to have other mental health problems as well. For example, anxiety disorders — such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others — are often paired with depression. So are eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse. Also, in some people, depression can be part of bipolar disorder (manic depression).

How is depression diagnosed?

Doctors use several different tools to diagnose depression:

  • Questionnaires. Your doctor may use questionnaires (forms) to check for depression and other mental health problems. The questionnaires ask about your symptoms. They may also ask about stress, your coping style, and the support you have in your life. 
  • Medical history. Your doctor will ask about your past and present illnesses and your family’s health history. 
  • Physical exam. An exam will help your doctor know if your symptoms come from something other than depression. 
  • Diagnostic criteria. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will compare your information to standard medical definitions for mental health disorders.

How is depression treated?

You have several options for treatment. Based on your condition and your preferences, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan that fits your needs. Your plan may include counseling, medication, care management, or a combination of the three.

What about depression in children and teens?

Do you think depression only happens to adults? Think again. According to estimates, 2% of children and up to 8% of teenagers have depression. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked or misunderstood. Myths about depression in kids often mean that they don’t get the help they need.

Self-management action plan

Self-management is the most important part of your treatment, but it can also be the most difficult. After all, when you’re depressed, you probably don’t feel like “managing” anything at all!

Creating a goal-centered action plan can help. For different areas of your life, choose realistic goals that match your natural “style” and personality. Work on only one goal at a time, and reward yourself for any progress you make.

For more information about Depression, and finding help, please download the printer friendly version of our Depression Fact Sheet.

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The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. More health information is available at www.intermountainhealthcare.org.

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