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Life is full of changes. Everyday events and our reactions to them sometimes affect our sense of well-being and peace of mind. It's common to get the blues or become sad when you're disappointed. Symptoms of depression are the most common medical problems seen by health professionals. It is estimated that feelings of depression will affect about one-third of all adults in the United States at some time in their lives.
Most people feel sad about losses like divorce or separation, the death of a friend or loved one, or a job change or layoff. These feelings are an expected reaction to a "triggering event." Most people get over them in time.
Several things make you more likely to have feelings of depression, such as:
- Being female. Women are twice as likely as men to have feelings of depression. Hormonal changes may play a role. These feelings may be seen more during pregnancy. They're most common shortly after the birth of a baby (postpartum depression), or shortly before or during menopause. Some women have feelings of sadness or depression shortly before their menstrual periods (premenstrual syndrome, or PMS).
- Age older than 60. Feelings of depression in this age group are often overlooked. That's because the symptoms are similar to other diseases and problems that older adults may have. Adults in this age group are more likely to have social isolation. Feelings of sadness may be linked to other life events, such as retirement, the death of a spouse or child, or declining physical abilities.
- Personal or family history. You are more likely to have feelings of depression if you have a history of previous depression, an anxiety disorder, or another mental illness. You are also 2 to 3 times more likely to have feelings of depression if one or both of your parents were diagnosed with depression.
- Medical problems—such as cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, or Parkinson's disease—or substance use disorder or withdrawal.
- Stressful life events. These are things like changing jobs, the loss of a job, or your children leaving home.
- Lack of family or social support.
Symptoms of depression that may point to a need for treatment vary from person to person. If you have feelings of sadness or loss of interest in pleasurable activities plus four or more of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or longer, you may be depressed.
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Restlessness or decreased activity that is noticed by others
- Feeling tired or sleepy all the time
- Having trouble sleeping, or sleeping more than usual
- Not being able to concentrate or make decisions
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Preoccupation with death or recurrent thoughts of suicide
People who feel depressed may also have physical symptoms, such as body aches or stomach problems.
Because "mood swings" and other emotional changes are thought to be a normal part of growing up, depression in children and teens often goes unrecognized. Children and teens do have depression. It can affect a child's quality of life. If prolonged or severe depression is left untreated, it can lead to serious outcomes, including suicide attempts and even completed suicide. If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, get help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line. Consider saving these numbers in your phone.
Depression is the most important risk factor for suicide.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:
- Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
- Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
- Medicines you take. Certain medicines, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
- Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
- Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.
- Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
- Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.
Symptoms of depression may include:
- Feeling sad or hopeless much of the time.
- Losing interest in or not getting pleasure from activities you once enjoyed.
- Not feeling as hungry as you used to, or eating a lot more than you used to.
- Sleeping too much or not enough.
- Feeling restless and not able to sit still.
- Feeling tired or as if you have no energy.
- Feeling unworthy or guilty for no reason.
- Finding it hard to focus, remember things, or make decisions.
- Feeling anxious or worried about things, often with no reason.
The risk of a suicide attempt is highest if:
- You have the means to kill yourself, such as a weapon or medicines.
- You have set a time and place to do it.
- You think there is no other way to solve the problem or end the pain.
Seek Care Today
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.
- Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
- If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
- If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.
Make an Appointment
Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
- If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
- If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
- Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
- If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
- You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
- You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
- You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 is also a resource.
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or other emergency services now.
The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 is also a resource.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
Positive actions and feelings can help lift your spirits. Thinking positively may be very hard when you're feeling depressed. But try to think about the positive side of situations and events in your life.
Appreciate any moments when you have positive thoughts. The following tips may help.
- Practice positive thinking.
Make statements that promote good thoughts. Replace negative self-talk with positive comments.
- Take action to put more fun into your life.
- Exercise regularly. Being active on a regular basis may help you feel better.
- Work in the garden, or play with a pet.
- Visit a friend. Spending time with a good friend may help you forget about your problems for a while. It can help you see the brighter side of life.
- Have a massage or a manicure, or get your hair cut.
- Rearrange your furniture.
- Take a class, or go to a free lecture at the public library or local hospital.
- Go to the movies, or watch a funny movie.
- If nothing feels fun, try doing something that you used to enjoy.
- Take a vacation. Sometimes just getting away for an afternoon will brighten your mood.
- Avoid using illegal drugs or marijuana and drinking alcohol.
They may interfere with medicines you are taking or they can make your depression worse.
- Talk to your doctor before trying complementary treatments.
Some complementary medicines can interfere with other medicines.
If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, or feeling hopeless, get help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line. Consider saving these numbers in your phone.
When to call for help during self-care
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
- Feelings of sadness, loneliness, or unhappiness last for weeks.
- Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.
- Symptoms are not getting better as expected.
Preparing For Your Appointment
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
David Messenger MD - Emergency Medicine, Critical Care Medicine
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