Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Other people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.
Depression symptoms in children and teens
Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.
- In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
- In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.
Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can demonstrate irritability without sadness or loss of interest. However, major depression can occur with ADHD.
Depression symptoms in older adults
Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:
- Memory difficulties or personality changes
- Physical aches or pain
- Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems, aches or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
- Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
- Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men
Treatments and drugs
Medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) are very effective for most people with depression. Your primary care doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medications to relieve symptoms. However, many people with depression also benefit from seeing a psychologist or other mental health professional.
If you have severe depression, you may need a hospital stay, or you may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until your symptoms improve.
Here’s a closer look at depression treatment options.
Many types of antidepressant medications are available, including those below. Discuss possible major side effects with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
- Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors (NDRIs).
- Atypical antidepressants.
- Tricyclic antidepressants.
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
- Other medications.
Psychotherapy is a general term for treating depression by talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health provider. Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy or psychological therapy.
Different types of psychotherapy can be effective for depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy. Your mental health provider also may recommend other therapies. Psychotherapy can help you:
- Adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty
- Identify negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones
- Explore relationships and experiences, and develop positive interactions with others
- Find better ways to cope and solve problems
- Identify issues that contribute to your depression and change behaviors that make it worse
- Regain a sense of satisfaction and control in your life and help ease depression symptoms, such as hopelessness and anger
- Learn to set realistic goals for your life
- Develop the ability to tolerate and accept distress using healthier behaviors
Hospital and residential treatment
In some people, depression is so severe that a hospital stay is needed. This may be necessary if you can’t care for yourself properly or when you’re in immediate danger of harming yourself or someone else. Psychiatric treatment at a hospital can help keep you calm and safe until your mood improves.
Partial hospitalization or day treatment programs also may help some people. These programs provide the outpatient support and counseling needed to get symptoms under control.
Other treatment options
For some people, other procedures may be suggested:
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).In ECT, electrical currents are passed through the brain. Performed under anesthesia, this procedure is thought to impact the function and effect of neurotransmitters in your brain and typically offers immediate relief of even severe depression when other treatments don’t work. Physical side effects, such as headache, are tolerable. Some people also have memory loss, which is usually temporary. ECT is usually used for people who don’t get better with medications, can’t take antidepressants for health reasons or are at high risk of suicide.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).TMS may be an option for those who haven’t responded to antidepressants. During TMS, you sit in a reclining chair, awake, with a treatment coil placed against your scalp. The coil sends brief magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in your brain that are involved in mood regulation and depression. Typically, you’ll have five treatments each week for up to six weeks.