Depression Basics

What is Depression?

Depression is more than feeling sad or having a bad day. People with depression usually feel down‚ blue‚ or sad‚ and they have other signs‚ such as:

  • Feeling sad all the time
  • Not wanting to do things that used to be fun
  • Grumpy‚ easily frustrated‚ restless
  • Changes in sleep—trouble falling asleep or staying asleep‚ waking up too early‚ or sleeping too much
  • Eating more or less than they used to
  • Trouble thinking
  • Feeling tired‚ even after sleeping well
  • Feeling worthless
  • Thinking about dying or hurting themselves

Take our depression screening quiz to learn more about your level of signs of depression. You should consider seeing your doctor or a qualified mental health professional‚ especially if these problems are getting in the way of your life if:

  • You have 5 or more of the signs listed above.
  • These signs have lasted 2 weeks or more.

What Causes Depression?

There are many things that increase a person's chance of getting depressed. Everyone is different‚ but here are some common things that can lead to depression:

  • Feeling lots of stress
  • Going through a difficult life event
  • A big life change‚ even if it was planned
  • A medical problem
  • Taking a medication that is known to cause depression
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Having blood relatives who've had depression

How is Depression Different from Sadness?

Everyone has down days and times when they feel sad. Sadness could turn into depression‚ but depression and sadness are different in these ways:

  • How long the feelings last: Depression is felt every day (or most days) and lasts at least 2 weeks‚ usually much longer.
  • How bad the symptoms are (how much they get in the way of your life): Depression makes it hard for you to do things (like work or family duties) and it can stop you from doing the things you want to do.

How is this Different from Withdrawal from Smoking?

Mood changes are common after quitting smoking. You might be irritable‚ restless‚ or feel down or blue. Changes in mood from quitting smoking (withdrawal) usually get better in 1 or 2 weeks‚ and they are not as serious.

If you find that you are feeling really down after quitting smoking‚ then you should talk about this with friends and family‚ and also call your doctor. This is also true if you have symptoms from the list above.

Who Gets Depression?

In general‚ about 1 out of every 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life. Depression affects about 15 million American adults every year. Anyone can get depressed. Depression can happen at any age and to any type of person. Your race‚ ethnicity‚ or how much money you make doesn't change your chance of getting depression. But some types of people seem more likely to get depressed than others. For example‚

  • Smokers
  • People with medical problems
  • People who are stressed

Why is Depression More Common in Smokers?

Nobody knows why smokers are more likely to have depression than non−smokers‚ but there are a number of guesses. People who have depression might smoke to feel better. Or smokers might get depression more easily because they smoke. Other ideas are also possible. More research is needed to find out for sure. No matter what the cause‚ there are treatments that work for both depression and smoking.

If I get Depressed After Quitting Smoking‚ Should I Start Smoking Again?

No! Look for ways to get help with your depression. Smoking does not treat depression. Remember that smoking is linked to many serious health problems for both smokers and the people around them. Finding ways to help your depression and quit smoking are the best way to go.

How Long does it Last?

Everyone is different. For some people‚ it will only last a few weeks‚ some for many months if not treated. For many people‚ depression is only a problem during really stressful times (like a divorce or the death of a loved one). For other people‚ depression happens off and on through their life.

But‚ for both groups of people‚ there are treatments for depression that can help reduce the symptoms and shorten how long the feelings last.

Is it Worth Getting Treatment for Depression?

Yes! Treatment almost always helps to reduce symptoms and shorten how long the depression lasts. A common problem is that too few people get help. Many people think that depression is not a real problem‚ can't be all that serious‚ or is a sign that they are simply not tough enough to deal with life. None of these are true.

You do not need to feel shy or embarrassed about talking openly and honestly about your feelings and worries. This is an important part of getting better. Many people benefit from treatment for depression‚ even if the symptoms are not serious. So you don't need to have a lot of symptoms of depression before talking to your doctor or a qualified mental health professional about getting treatment.

If you find that you have 5 or more signs from the list above‚ you should talk with your doctor or a qualified mental health professional. This is especially true if the feelings have lasted 2 weeks or more‚ are making you worried‚ or are getting in the way of your daily life.

What are the Treatments for Depression?

There are many good treatments for depression‚ and most people who use them to get better. Treatment usually means getting psychotherapy/counseling‚ taking medications‚ or doing both. Your doctor or a qualified mental health professional can help you figure out what treatment is best for you.

What is Therapy (counseling‚ talk therapy‚ psychotherapy)?

Therapy has shown to be quite helpful and is often an important part of treatment for depression.

Getting therapy does not mean you will be in treatment forever. Most talk therapy is for a short time. Depending on how serious your feelings are‚ it can mean meeting only a few times with a therapist. Most talk therapy focuses on thoughts‚ feelings‚ and issues that are happening in your life now. In some cases‚ understanding your past can help‚ but finding ways to address what is happening in your life now can help you cope and be ready for challenges in the future.

Therapy is more than just telling your therapist about your problems. It means working with your therapist to improve coping with the things happening in your life‚ change behaviors that are causing problems‚ and find solutions. Your therapist may give you some things for you to think about and work on in between meetings. Some common goals of therapy:

  • Get healthier
  • Get over fears or insecurities
  • Cope with stress
  • Make sense of past painful events
  • Identify things that make your depression worse
  • Have better relationships with family and friends
  • Make a plan for dealing with a crisis
  • Understand why something bothers you and what you can do about it

What Can I Expect from Depression Medication?

Many people with depression find that taking medication is a useful tool in improving their mood and coping. Medications for depression are called antidepressants. Antidepressants cannot solve all your problems‚ but they can help you to even out your mood and be more able to handle events in your life that are making your mood worse.

Antidepressants are prescription medications‚ so talking to your doctor about taking them might be useful to you. If your doctor writes you a prescription for an antidepressant‚ ask exactly how you should take the medication. There are many medications‚ so you and your doctor have options to choose from. Sometimes it takes trying a couple different medications to find the best one for you; be patient.

When taking these medications‚ it is important to stick with them for a while. Many people start feeling better a few days after starting the medication‚ but it often takes 1 to 2 weeks of taking it to feel a big difference‚ and 4 weeks to feel the most benefit. It's also common to have to change the dose‚ so you will want to work closely with your doctor.

How long a person takes antidepressants is very different from person to person. Many people are on them for 6 to 12 months‚ and some people take them for longer. Again‚ you and your doctor will want to talk about what is best for you.

Antidepressants are safe and work well for most people‚ but it is still important to talk with your doctor about side affects you may get. Side effects usually do not get in the way of daily life‚ and they go away as your body gets used to the medication.

If you notice that your mood is getting worse‚ especially if you have thoughts about hurting yourself‚ it is important to call your doctor right away.

How Else Can I Take Care of Myself?

There are many things you can do to help lift your mood and improve feelings of depression.

  • Exercise. This can be something as simple as taking a fast walk or as involved as going to the gym or joining a team sport. The type of exercise depends on how fit you are‚ but any kind of activity can help. Start small and build over time. This can be hard to do when you're depressed because feeling down saps all your energy. But making the effort will pay off! It will help you feel better.
  • Structure your day. Create a plan to stay busy. It is especially important to get out of the house whenever you can.
  • Talk and do things with other people. Many people who are feeling depressed are cut off from other people. Having daily contact with other people will help your mood.
  • Build rewards into your life. For many who are depressed‚ rewards and fun activities are missing from life. It is helpful to find ways to reward yourself. Even small things add up and can help your mood.
  • Do what used to be fun‚ even if does not seem fun right now. One of the common signs of depression is not wanting to do activities that used to be fun. It may take a little time‚ but doing fun activities again will help improve your mood. Some people like to make a list of fun events and then do at least one a day.
  • Talk with friends and loved ones. Their support is a key to you feeling better. Having a chance to tell them your concerns can help things seem less scary.

NOTE: This information is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis of major depression. It cannot take the place of seeing a mental health professional.

It is common for people who are feeling bad to think about hurting themselves or dying. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self−destruction or suicide‚ please seek immediate help. Call 1−800−273−TALK (8255) to reach a 24−hour crisis center or dial 911. 1−800−273−TALK is available 24/7 to provide free‚ private help to people in crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration‚ a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services‚ runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Para obtener asistencia en español durante las 24 horas‚ llame al 1−888−628−9454.)