Most of us feel sad, alone, or depressed at times. It’s a normal feedback to loss, life’s struggles, or injured self-esteem. But when these feelings become overwhelming, cause physical symptoms, and last for long periods of time, they can keep you from principal a normal, active life.
That’s when it’s time to seek medical help.
Your usual doctor is a good place to start. They can test you for depression and help manage your symptoms. If your depression goes unprocessed, it may get worse and last for months, even years. It can cause pain and perhaps lead to suicide, as it does for about 1 of every 10 people with depression.
Recognizing the symptoms is key. Unfortunately, about half the people who have depression never get it diagnosed or treated.
They can include:
Trouble intent, recall details, and making decisions Fatigue approach of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness Pessimism and hopelessness sleeplessness, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much Crankiness or irritability Restlessness Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex Overeating, or appetite loss Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won’t go away Digestive problems that don’t get better, even with treatment
Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts Diagnosis
There isn’t a “depression test” a doctor can use to see if you have it, so figuring that out often starts with a thorough history and physical exam. Your doctor will want to know: When your symptoms started
How long they’ve lasted How severe they are If depression or other mental illnesses run in your family.
If you have a history of treatment or alcohol abuse You’ll also be asked if you’ve had similar symptoms of depression before, and if so, how they were treated.
If your doctor rules out a physical cause for your symptoms, they may start you on a treatment or refer you to a mental health professional. This specialist will figure out the best course of treatment. That may include medicines (such as antidepressants), a type of therapy called psychotherapy, or both.
Be prepared for the process to take some time. You may need to try different treatments. And it may take more than a month for drugs to take their full effect.
Are There Warning Signs of Suicide With Depression?
Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Suicidal thoughts or intentions are serious. Warning signs include:
A sudden switch from sadness to extreme calmness, or appearing to be happy
Always talking or thinking about death
Clinical depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
Taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving through red lights
Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
Putting affairs in order, like tying up loose ends or changing a will
Saying things like “It would be better if I weren’t here” or “I want out”
Talking about suicide
Visiting or calling close friends and loved ones
If you or someone you know shows any of the above warning signs, call your local suicide hotline, contact a mental health professional right away, or go to the emergency room.
Are There Other Therapies to Treat Symptoms of Depression?
There are other treatments your doctor may consider. Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is a treatment option for people whose symptoms don’t get better with medicine or who have severe depression and need treatment right away.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, involves using a noninvasive device that is held above the head to induce the magnetic field. It targets a specific part of the brain that can trigger depression.
With vagus nerve stimulation, or VMS, a pacemaker-like device is surgically implanted under the collarbone to deliver regular impulses to the brain.
When Should I Seek Help?
If your symptoms of depression are causing problems with relationships, work, or your family — and there isn’t a clear solution — you should see a professional.
Talking with a mental health counselor or doctor can help prevent things from getting worse, especially if your symptoms stay for any length of time.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or feelings, get help right away.
It’s important to understand that feeling depressed doesn’t mean you have depression. That condition involves not only changes in mood, but also changes in sleep, energy, appetite, concentration, and motivation.
If you have physical symptoms like these and find yourself feeling depressed much of the time for days or weeks, see your doctor.
What Are the Causes and Symptoms of Depression?
Everybody feels blue now and then, but most of the time it lasts just a few days and goes away on its own. Depression is different. It gets in the way of your daily life and makes it harder to do the things you love. You’ll need treatment to get better.
There are a lot of signs of depression, but you may not have them all. How intense they are, and how long they last, are different from person to person.
Some of the ways you might feel are:
Sad, empty, or anxious. It will continue over time without getting better or going away.
Helpless, worthless, or guilty. You may feel bad about yourself or your life, or think a lot about losses or failures.
Irritable. You may get fidgety or more cranky than usual.
Less interest in activities. Hobbies or games you usually enjoy may not petition to you. You may have little or no desire to eat or have sex.
Less energetic. You may feel very tired or think more slowly. Daily routines and tasks may seem too hard to manage.
Trouble concentrating. It could be tough to focus. Simple things like reading a newspaper or watching TV may be hard. You may have trouble recognition details. It might seem overpowering to make a decision, whether it’s big or small.
Changes in the way you sleep. You may wake up too early or have trouble falling asleep. The opposite can also happen. You may sleep much longer than usual.
Changes in appetite. You may overeat or not feel hungry. Depression often leads to weight gain or weight loss.
Aches and pains. You may have headaches, cramps, an upset stomach, or digestive problems.
Experts believe depression is due to a combination of things:
Brain structure. The way certain nerve pathways or circuits in your brain send information may not work properly. Scans show that the parts of your brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, hunger, and actions look different when you’re miserable, but scientists aren’t sure why.