Depression Basics

Understanding Depression

NOTE: This information is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis of major depression. It cannot take the place of seeing a mental health professional.

It is common for people who are feeling bad to think about hurting themselves or dying. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-destruction or suicide, please seek immediate help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or dial 911. 1-800-273-TALK is available 24/7 to provide free, private help to people in crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Exit disclaimer(Para obtener asistencia en español durante las 24 horas, llame al 1-888-628-9454).

What is depression?

Depression is more than feeling sad or having a bad day. People with depression usually feel down, blue, or sad, and they have other signs, such as:

  • Feeling sad all the time

  • Not wanting to do things that used to be fun

  • Grumpy, easily frustrated, restless

  • Changes in sleep—trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much

  • Eating more or less than they used to

  • Trouble thinking

  • Feeling tired, even after sleeping well

  • Feeling worthless

  • Thinking about dying or hurting themselves

 

You may have depression if:

  • You have 5 or more of the signs listed above.

  • These signs have lasted 2 weeks or more.

Use our depression screening quiz to see if you are depressed. You should consider seeing your doctor or a qualified mental health professional, especially if these problems are getting in the way of your life or are making you stressed.

 

What causes depression?

There are many things that increase a person’s chance of getting depressed. Everyone is different, but here are some common things that can lead to depression:

  • Feeling lots of stress

  • Going through a difficult life event

  • A big life change, even if it was planned

  • Medical problem

  • Taking a medication that is known to cause depression

  • Using alcohol or drugs

  • Having blood relatives who have had depression

     

How is depression different from sadness?

Everyone has down days and times when they feel sad. Sadness could turn into depression, but depression and sadness are different in these ways:

  • How long the feelings last: Depression is felt every day (or most days) and lasts at least 2 weeks, usually much longer.

  • How bad the symptoms are (how much they get in the way of your life): Depression makes it hard for you to do things (like work or family duties) and it can stop you from doing the things you want to do.

Who gets depression?

Anyone can get depressed. Depression can happen at any age and to any type of person. But some types of people seem more likely to get depressed than others. For example,

  • Women

  • Smokers

  • People with medical problems

  • People who are stressed

 

In general, about 1 out of every 6 adults will have depression at some time in their life.
Depression affects about 15,000,000 American adults every year.

Women are more likely to get depression than men. For every 1 man with depression, there are 2 women with it. About 1 out of every 4 women will have depression at some time in their life. In comparison, only 1 out of every 12 men will.

Your race, ethnicity, or how much money you make doesn’t change your chance of getting depression.

How long does it last? Will this go on forever?

Everyone is different. For some people, it will only last a few weeks, some for many months if not treated.
For many people, depression is only a problem during really stressful times (like a divorce or the death of a loved one). For other people, depression happens off and on through their life.

But, for both groups of people, there are treatments for depression that can help reduce the symptoms and shorten how long the feelings last.

What about after I have a baby?

After you have a baby, your mood can range from "blues" that come and go right after childbirth to a time of major depression that doesn’t seem to go away. Any new mom can have depression, but moms who have had depression before may be more likely to get it again after childbirth.

If you do find that you are feeling very down after childbirth, then you should talk with friends and family about it, and also call your doctor. This is also true if you have symptoms from the list above (see "What is depression?" and the depression screening quiz). Do not think of it as "just the baby blues."

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