Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.
Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults (6.7%) in any given year. And one in six people (16.6%) will experience depression at some time in their life. Depression can occur at any time, but on average, first appears during the late teens to mid-20s. Women are more likely than men to experience depression. Some studies show that one-third of women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime. There is a high degree of heritability (approximately 40%) when first-degree relatives (parents/children/siblings) have depression.
The medical community does not fully understand the causes of depression. There are many possible causes, and sometimes, various factors combine to trigger symptoms.
Factors that are likely to play a role include:
ü genetic features
ü changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter levels
ü environmental factors
ü psychological and social factors
ü additional conditions, such as bipolar disorder
People who have depression will experience some or all of the following symptoms almost every day for at least two weeks:
ü Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, emptiness, worthlessness, or guilt
ü Low energy, fatigue
ü Irritability, restlessness, anxiety
ü Slowed thinking, speaking, or movement
ü Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
ü Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
ü Loss of appetite, or eating too much
ü Weight gain or loss
ü Trouble sleeping, or sleeping too much
ü Headache, stomachache, and other aches and pains that do not have a clear physical cause
ü Persistent sad or empty mood
Some people with depression will experience many of these symptoms. Others will have just a few. The severity of depression symptoms can range from mild to severe enough to impact the person's day-to-day life.
The typical treatment for depression includes antidepressants or other medications, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of the two interventions. Personalizing treatment to the individual can increase the chances that it will be successful.
Antidepressants are a class of drugs used to treat depression. They include the following types:
ü Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often the first drugs doctors prescribe for depression. These drugs affect the chemical messenger, serotonin, which helps to regulate mood. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression.
ü Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) work on two brain chemicals—serotonin and norepinephrine.
ü Atypical antidepressants act on the brain in a different way from other antidepressants. These drugs may be an option for people who have not found relief from SSRIs or SNRIs.
Sometimes doctors will prescribe another type of medication—such as an anti-anxiety drug, antipsychotic medicine, or stimulant—along with the antidepressant. Antidepressants can take up to four weeks to start working. It can take a few tries to find the best drug and dosage combination that will relieve your depression.