Depression is one of the most common mental health problems today. It is not just a state of unhappiness or sadness. It is a true disease. The cause seems to be linked to a drop in chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. Having a family history of depression, alcoholism, or suicide increases the risk. Chronic illness, chronic pain, migraine headaches, and high emotional stress also increase the risk.

Depression is something we tend to recognize in others. But we may have a hard time seeing it in ourselves. It can show in many physical and emotional ways:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Overeating

  • Not being able to sleep

  • Sleeping too much

  • Excessive tiredness not linked to physical exertion

  • Restlessness or irritability

  • Slowness of movement or speech

  • Feeling depressed or withdrawn

  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed

  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

  • Thoughts of harming or killing oneself, or thoughts that life is not worth living

  • Low self-esteem

The treatment for depression may include both medicine and psychotherapy. Antidepressants can reduce suffering. They can also improve the ability to function during the depressed period. Therapy can offer emotional support. It can also help you understand emotional factors that may be causing the depression.

Home care

  • Ongoing care and support help people manage this disease. Find a healthcare provider and therapist who meet your needs. Seek help when you feel like you may be getting ill.

  • Be kind to yourself. Make it a point to do things that you enjoy (gardening, walking in nature, going to a movie). Reward yourself for small successes.

  • Once you start your medicine, expect a slow decrease in your symptoms. Depression will lift gradually, not right away. Ask your healthcare provider how long it will take for the medicine to start working.

  • Take care of your physical body. Eat a balanced diet (low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables). Exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Even mild to moderate exercise (like brisk walking) can make you feel better.

  • Don't make major decisions, such as a job change, a divorce, or a marriage until you feel better.

  • Don't drink alcohol. It can make depression worse.

  • Take medicine as prescribed. Don't stop your medicine or adjust the dose unless you talk with your healthcare provider.

  • Don't share your medicine or use someone else's medicine.

  • Tell all your healthcare providers about all the prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take. Certain supplements interact with medicines. They can cause dangerous side effects. Ask your pharmacist about medicine interactions when you have questions.

  • Talk with your family and trusted friends about your feelings and thoughts. Ask them to help you notice behavior changes early. You can then get help and, if needed, your medicine can be adjusted.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider if you are not getting better. He or she may change your medicine or have you try another treatment.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider as advised.

Call 911

Call 911 if you:

  • Have suicidal thoughts, a suicide plan, and the means to carry out the plan

  • Have serious thoughts of hurting someone else

  • Have trouble breathing

  • Are very confused

  • Feel very drowsy or have trouble awakening

  • Faint or lose consciousness

  • Have new chest pain that becomes more severe, lasts longer, or spreads into your shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, or back

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these happen:

  • Worsening of your symptoms

  • Feeling extreme depression, fear, anxiety, or anger toward yourself or others

  • Feeling out of control

  • Feeling that you may try to harm yourself or another

  • Hearing voices that others do not hear

  • Seeing things that others do not see

  • Not sleeping or eating for 3 days in a row

  • Having friends or family express concern over your behavior and ask you to seek help

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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