Depression: What Are the Signs and Treatments?
What is depression?
Depression is a very common medical condition. We all feel sad from time to time in our lives, but it is important to recognize when depression is more than a temporary thing and when to seek help. The exact cause of clinical depression is not completely understood, but many scientists and clinicians believe it is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Clinical depression affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Situations such as loss of a loved one, trauma, a difficult relationship, or a stressful situation can trigger depression. Depression can also occur without an obvious trigger.
What are the signs of depression?
The key symptoms of depression are a sad, anxious, or empty feeling that lasts for two weeks or more, and/or a loss of interest or pleasure in most activities you once enjoyed. Some of the other more common symptoms of depression include:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Change in sleep habits
- Change in appetite and weight
- Increase in fatigue
- Reduced sex drive
- Suicidal thoughts
- Loss of motivation and drive
Having one of these symptoms is not likely to indicate that someone is clinically depressed and could be caused by a physical illness, medication, or stress.
How long does depression last?
Sometimes depression goes away on its own, but, depending on the nature and type of depression, it may take many months and possibly considerable suffering if left untreated. Depression can be successfully treated. With the right treatment, patients will start to feel better over time. Once diagnosed, a person with depression can be treated in several ways.
How is depression treated?
The most common treatments are antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. As far as medication, antidepressants primarily work on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Most antidepressants must be taken for at least 4 to 6 weeks before they have a full effect. We encourage patients to continue taking their medication even if they are feeling better. No one likes to stay on medication any longer than they have to, but if a patient stops taking their medication too soon, it could interfere with their recovery and progress.
What should I do if I feel I have clinical depression or someone I know is depressed?
Depression, even the most severe cases, can be effectively treated. If you feel you are depressed and it is interfering with your life, the best thing to do is to visit your healthcare provider or mental health specialist. There are some medications or medical conditions that can cause the same symptoms as depression and your doctor can rule these out. Ask your healthcare provider about seeing a mental health professional. Because depression is a common experience today, many medical professionals are used to dealing with depression. It’s important to remember that depression is an illness that lots of people have and you should seek help just as you would for a physical illness.
By Jennifer Parent, APRN
Jennifer Parent is an adult psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at Weeks Medical Center’s Lancaster Physicians Office. For more information or to make an appointment, please call 603-788-5095.