What Is Depression?

 What Is Depression?

By learning about depression, you’ve made an important first step toward getting help.

A lot of people have a hard time accepting that they may have depression. They feel ashamed. But depression is not something you brought on yourself. It’s a disease — just like heart disease or diabetes.
 What Is Depression?

By learning about depression, you’ve made an important first step toward getting help.

A lot of people have a hard time accepting that they may have depression. They feel ashamed. But depression is not something you brought on yourself. It’s a disease — just like heart disease or diabetes.

Depression can affect anyone. In the U.S., almost 15 million adults — young and old, men and women — have depression right now. Almost 2/3 of them never get appropriate help. That’s tragic. Depression is a serious illness, but it’s a treatable one.

If you think you may have depression, don’t struggle through on your own. Tell your doctor or a therapist. With the right treatment, you can beat depression and feel as good as you did before

Why Seek Help

Wondering why you might have depression? Nobody knows for sure what causes depression, but we do know that there doesn’t have to be a “reason” to feel depressed. A mix of things can increase the risk, like stress, genetics, hormonal changes, and gender. Experiencing a setback or tragedy can trigger depression too.

Whatever the causes, clinical depression is a serious condition. It can take an enormous toll on your life. Without treatment, people may struggle for months or years feeling down or outright miserable. Their families and careers suffer as well.

That doesn’t have to happen. With help, you can beat depression. But the longer you put off treatment, the harder it can be to get under control.

Treatment Options

If you do need treatment, the good news is that we now have a lot of effective, proven ways to relieve depression.

For most people, the first treatments that a doctor will try are antidepressants or psychotherapy. Some studies have found that adding therapy to medicine works better than medicine on its own.

Lifestyle changes can help boost your mood and help depression treatment work better. Managing stress, getting enough sleep, and exercising have all been shown to help. You can talk to your doctor about the possibilities.

The important thing is that there are a lot of options out there. If you are suffering from depression, your doctor or a therapist can help you find the right treatment.


Antidepressants are some of the best treatments we have for depression. They seem to work by making nerve cells form stronger and healthier connections in parts of the brain.

Some of the most common drugs for depression are called SSRIs, like Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft. Doctors usually try one of these first. If it doesn’t work, your doctor might try another type of medicine or a combination of different medicines. There are many options with different benefits and side effects.

Unfortunately, doctors can’t yet predict how well a given medicine will work in a person. Finding the right drug, at the right dose, can take some time and trial and error.

Unlike a pain reliever or a sleeping pill, antidepressants can take weeks or months to take effect. As long as you stick with treatment, you and your doctor will find something that works.

Counseling and Psychotherapy

Therapy is a key part of depression treatment. While it might not work as quickly as medication alone, some studies show it has more lasting benefits.

The idea of opening up to a stranger might seem hard. Just remember: Therapy is a medically proven treatment. It’s helped countless people get over depression. Licensed therapists must keep your conversations confidential, too.

There are different types of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you see how your own thought patterns can contribute to your depression and teaches you practical ways to change them. Other approaches focus more on your relationships or dealing with issues from your past.

Therapy can be done one-on-one, with your spouse or family, or in a group. It’s important to take an active role, because you have a lot of control over how well therapy works.

Common Concerns About Medications

You might have worries about trying treatment for depression.

Antidepressants will change my personality. Depression can be like a fog that hides the real you. Antidepressants don’t change your personality, but they can help to restore your true personality, unclouded by the effects of depression.

I’m worried about side effects. Antidepressants may cause side effects, but not everyone experiences them. If you do, many times they will fade with time. If they don’t, your doctor can change your medicine or dosage or suggest other ways to manage side effects.

I don’t want to be in treatment forever. Getting help now doesn’t mean you’re signing up for lifelong treatment. Many people just need medicine or therapy for a short period to get through their depression. Others may need treatment that lasts longer and helps prevent depression from coming back.

“Natural” Treatments for Depression


You might wonder about “natural” remedies for depression, like herbs and supplements. Do they work?

So far, the evidence is unclear. There’s some evidence that supplements like fish oil, folic acid, and SAMe might have some benefit. Studies of other supplements — like St. John’s wort and valerian — have been mixed.

Before you take anything, talk to a doctor about the pros and cons. Keep in mind that supplements — like any drug — have side effects. Just because they’re “natural” doesn’t make them risk-free. And if they aren’t backed by scientific studies, they run the risk of not helping to treat your illness. Some can interact with medicines your doctor may prescribe, too.

It’s best to talk to your doctor if you have symptoms of depression. The risks of depression are just too serious.

How to Get Started

Right now, the prospect of getting help — finding the right doctor and therapist — may seem like more than you can handle.

But take a first step. See your family doctor and ask for a recommendation. While many GPs will prescribe antidepressants, it’s best to work with an expert, like a psychiatrist. They have more experience with depression medicines and with psychotherapy.

You may also want to find a therapist like a psychologist, social worker, or counselor. You can get names from your insurance company and ask friends or family for recommendations. The American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have online locators. Call a therapist to learn a little about her approach before you meet.

The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you’ll feel better.

What You Can Do

Depression is too serious to cope with on your own. You need medical treatment. But there are some things you can do to manage stress and help you feel better while you start treatment.

Learn new ways of taking care of yourself. Getting the right amount of sleep is important. While there’s no “depression diet,” making good food choices can help. Aim to exercise at least a few times a week. Studies show that regular physical activity — even walking — can boost mood, build stamina, and raise self-esteem.

Getting on a daily schedule and setting modest goals will ease you back into the rhythm of your life. Learning ways to relax — with yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises — will help, too.

Talking About Depression

When you have depression, you may turn inward and pull away from family and friends. But it’s important to stay connected. You need your loved ones right now — not only for support, but to get your mind off your troubles. Breaking out of your isolation is essential to getting better.

Choose a few trusted family members and friends and tell them how you’re feeling. Give them some information about depression that will help them understand what depression is and how it’s treated.

What if some people don’t believe you? They might feel you should just “snap out of it.” They’re wrong. Don’t let them undermine you or keep you from getting the treatment you need.

When to Call the Doctor

If you think you might be depressed, don’t try to tough it out. Make an appointment with a doctor or therapist. It’s especially urgent if your symptoms are getting worse, or if it’s getting hard to function day-to-day.

If you are thinking about hurting yourself, get help immediately. Call your doctor or an emergency hotline or go to the ER right away. At its worst, depression can make things seem so black and overwhelming that you can’t imagine they will ever get better.

But depression warps your sense of reality, making things seem much worse than they are. The thoughts that make someone consider suicide aren’t a sign of clear thinking. They’re a symptom of depression. With treatment, those feelings will go away. You will feel better again.

Your Next Steps

Getting accurate information about depression and how to get help can help your recovery be more successful.


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