This article is meant for informational purposes only. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your physician.
Dr. G. M. Siddiqui, M.D
CEO, Medical Services, Lifeline Healthcare.
Depression is a Disease
Depression is a serious medical illness that involves the brain. It's more than just a feeling of being "down in the dumps" or "blue" for a few days. In depression, the feelings do not go away. They persist and interfere with your everyday life. People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they're depressed. They may think their feelings are normal. All too often, people feel ashamed about their depression and mistakenly believe they should be able to overcome it with willpower alone. But depression seldom gets better without treatment and may get worse. With the right treatment approach, the person can get better.
Remember that depression is a disease, not a personal flaw or weakness — and that it usually gets better with treatment.
What Causes Depression?
Depression often runs in families. This may be due to your genes, behaviors you learn at home, or your environment. Depression may be triggered by stressful or unhappy life events. Often, it is a combination of these things.
Many factors can bring on depression, including:
- # Alcohol or drug abuse
- # Medical conditions, such as cancer or long-term (chronic) pain
- # Stressful life events, such as job loss, divorce, or death of a spouse or other family member
- # Social isolation (a common cause of depression in older adults)
What are the signs and symptoms of depression?
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Signs and symptoms include:
- # Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- # Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- # Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- # Irritability, restlessness
- # Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- # Fatigue and decreased energy
- # Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- # Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- # Overeating, or appetite loss
- # Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- # Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Go to a nearby emergency room if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others.
Call your health care provider if:
- # You hear voices that are not there.
- # You cry often without cause.
- # Your depression has affected your work, school, or family life for longer than 2 weeks.
- # You have 3 or more symptoms of depression.
- # You think one of your current medications may be making you feel depressed. DO NOT change or stop taking any medications without talking to your doctor.
- # If you think your child or teen may be depressed.
You should also call your doctor if:
- # You think you should cut back on drinking alcohol
- # A family member or friend has asked you to cut back on drinking alcohol
- # You feel guilty about the amount of alcohol you drink
- # You drink alcohol first thing in the morning
Taking Care of Your Depression at Home
There are many things you can do at home to help manage your depression, such as:
- # Get enough sleep
- # Follow a healthy diet.
- # Take medicines correctly. Learn how to manage side effects. Some people may feel better after a few weeks of taking antidepressant medicines but usually need to take these medicines for 4 to 9 months. They need this to get a full response and prevent depression from coming back. If you need antidepressant medicines, you should take them every day. DO NOT stop taking your medicine on your own, even if you feel better or have side effects. Always call your doctor first and seek advice.
- # Watch for early signs that depression is getting worse. Have a plan if it does.
- # Try to exercise more
- # Look for activities that make you happy
- # Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. These can make depression worse over time.
- # Talk to someone you trust about your feelings of depression. Try to be around people who are caring and positive. Volunteering or getting involved in group activities may help.
- # Give positive reinforcement. People with depression may judge themselves harshly and find fault with everything they do. Remind yourself about your positive qualities and how much you mean to others.
- # Create a low-stress environment. Creating a regular routine may help a person with depression feel more in control. Make a schedule for meals, medication, physical activity and sleep, and organize household chores.
- # Encourage participation in spiritual practice, if appropriate. For many people, faith is an important element in recovery from depression — whether it's involvement in an organized religious community or personal spiritual beliefs and practices.
- # Learn about depression. The better you understand what causes depression, how it affects people and how it can be treated, the better you'll be able to talk to and help the person you care about.
- # Finally, be patient. Depression symptoms do improve with treatment, but it can take time.
Coping With Suicidal Thoughts
What are suicidal thoughts and suicide?
Suicidal thoughts are thoughts about hurting yourself or taking your own life. Suicide is the act of taking your own life.
Learn and stay alert for common warning signs of suicide or suicidal thoughts:
- # Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead," or "I wish I hadn't been born"
- # Getting the means to attempt suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- # Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
- # Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- # Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
- # Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- # Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- # Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- # Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- # Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there's no other logical explanation for why this is being done
- # Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
- # Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
How can someone cope with suicidal thoughts?
- # Give it time. You do not have to act on your suicidal thoughts. Make a promise to yourself that you will give yourself time to ask for help and seek treatment.
- # Reach out for help. You are not alone. You may feel like your loved ones don’t care about you or are better off without you. But know that, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, people want to help you. So tell someone what’s going on. Call a friend or family member, your family doctor, or a clergy member.
- # Avoid things that trigger suicidal thoughts. These things are different for everyone, but common triggers include being alone, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs. Instead, spend time with family or friends every day. Make your home safe by getting rid of alcohol, drugs, and the things that you used or planned to use to hurt yourself.
- # Take care of your health and wellness. Follow your doctor’s eating and exercise advice. Get plenty of sleep. Learn how to deal with stress. Find and do things that you enjoy. If you’re taking medicine to treat depression, take the right amount at the right time.