Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad, but these feelings are usually fleeting and pass within a couple of days. When someone has a depressive disorder, it interferes with daily life and normal functioning, and causes pain for both the individual with the disorder and those who care about him/her. Depression is a common but serious illness, and most who have it need treatment to get better.
Depression affects both men and women, but more women than men are likely to be diagnosed with depression in any given year. 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. In 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year11. This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 1712.
Basic Signs and Symptoms
Individuals with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. In addition, the severity and frequency of symptoms, and how long they last, will vary depending on the individual and his/her particular illness. Signs and symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Insomnia, waking up during the night, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
Diagnosis and Treatment
Depressive illnesses, even the most severe cases, are highly treatable disorders. As with many illnesses, the earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is and the greater the likelihood that a recurrence of the depression can be prevented.
The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications, and some medical conditions such as viruses or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression. In addition, it is important to rule out depression that is associated with another mental illness called bipolar disorder. A doctor can rule out these possibilities by conducting a physical examination, interview, and/or lab tests, depending on the medical condition. If a medical condition and bipolar disorder can be ruled out, the physician should conduct a psychological evaluation or refer the person to a mental health professional.
The doctor or mental health professional will conduct a complete diagnostic evaluation. He or she should get a complete history of symptoms, including when they started, how long they have lasted, their severity, whether they have occurred before, and if so, how they were treated. He or she should also ask if there is a family history of depression. In addition, he or she should ask if the person is using alcohol or drugs, and whether the person is thinking about death or suicide.
Once diagnosed, a person with depression can be treated with a number of methods. The most common treatment methods are medication and psychotherapy.