Depression has a variety of symptoms, but the most common is a deep feeling of sadness. People with depression may feel tired, listless, hopeless, helpless, and generally overwhelmed by life. Simple pleasures are no longer enjoyed, and their world can appear dark and uncontrollable. Emotional and physical withdrawal is a common response of depressed people.
Depression can strike at any time, but most often appears for the first time during the prime of life, from ages 24 to 44. One in four women and one in 10 men will confront depression at some point in their lives.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is diagnosed if a person experiences 1) persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety or 2) loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities in addition to five or more of the following symptoms for at least 2 consecutive weeks:
- Changes in appetite that result in weight losses or gains not related to dieting
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Restlessness or irritability
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts of suicide
Depression is diagnosed only if the above symptoms are not due to other conditions (e.g. neurological or hormonal problems) or illnesses (e.g., cancer, heart attack) and are not the unexpected side effects of medications or substance abuse.
Treatment of Depression
Unfortunately, depression cannot be controlled for any length of time simply through exercise, through changes in diet, or by taking a vacation. But it is among the most treatable of mental disorders. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond well to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms.
Before a specific treatment is recommended, a psychiatrist will conduct a thorough diagnostic evaluation, consisting of an interview and physical examination. Its purpose is to reveal specific symptoms, medical and family history, cultural setting, and environmental causes of stress to arrive at a proper diagnosis and to determine the best treatment.
Antidepressants may be prescribed to correct imbalances in the levels of chemicals in the brain. These medications are not sedatives, “uppers,” or tranquilizers; they are not habit-forming; and they generally have no stimulating effect on people not experiencing depression.
Antidepressants usually take full effect within 3-6 weeks after therapy has begun. If little or no improvement is noted after 6-8 weeks, the psychiatrist will alter the dose of the medication or will add or substitute another antidepressant. Psychiatrists usually recommend that consumers continue to take medication for 5 or more months after symptoms have improved.
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” may be used either alone for treatment of mild depression or in combination with antidepressant medications for moderate to severe depression.
Psychotherapy can involve only the individual consumer or include others. Family or couples therapy helps to address specific issues that can arise within these close relationships. Group therapy involves people with similar illnesses. Depending on the severity of the depression, treatment can take a few weeks or substantially longer. However, in many cases, significant improvement can be made in 10-15 sessions.
Depression is never normal and always produces needless suffering. With proper diagnosis and treatment, depression can be overcome in the vast majority of people.