Depression is a very common illness. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, or walk of life. Depression is twice as likely to affect women as men, and about 1 in 5 women will develop depression in their lifetime. Although we don’t know exactly what causes depression, it can be treated. Many women have questions about depression and how it can affect their lives. This page covers basic information about depression, its symptoms, and treatment.
WHAT IS DEPRESSION?
Depression is an illness that affects millions of people every year. Depression is not simply feeling sad for a short period of time. It is a long-lasting, debilitating condition that can last years if left untreated. Depression affects your thoughts, feelings, and behavior as well as how you interact with the people around you.
Depression most commonly arises when one has other emotional disorders, family history of depression, extreme stress, or emotional grief. About 10-15% of the time, depression is triggered by other disorders such as anxiety. Also, it can be brought on by switching medications, or when the levels of certain chemicals in the brain become unbalanced. Other triggers of depression include:
- Alcohol/substance abuse
- Balancing stressful work life with home life
- Birth of a baby (postpartum depression)
- Loss of a loved one
- Being the victim of a crime
- Emotional or physical trauma
- Divorce or stressful relationships with a partner
- Being very sick, or being sick all the time
Although most of these situations cause sad feelings that eventually go away, sometimes they trigger something deeper and more long-lasting.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION?
Feeling sad or “down” are not the only symptoms associated with depression. These symptoms can be both physical and emotional can occur daily for a prolonged period of time. These symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or blue
- Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling slow and sluggish, or overly active and unable to sit still
- Feeling worthless, disposable, or unwanted
- Having thoughts of death and attempting suicide or self-harm
- Losing interest in food or eating all the time
- Sleeping too little or sleeping all the time
- Lacking energy and feeling tired all the time
- Having trouble remembering things, making decisions, or concentrating
- Worry or fear
- Headaches or stomach aches
- Sexual problems (lack of desire or libido)
- Digestive problems
A depressive episode exists when a person experiences these symptoms for 2 or more weeks. The symptoms can be anywhere from mild to very severe. Women with mild depression may find it difficult to perform daily tasks. Women with severe depression may not be able to function at all and may attempt to commit suicide. Even mild forms of depression should be treated because they can progress and become severe.
HOW IS DEPRESSION DIAGNOSED?
When trying to determine whether or not you are depressed, your provider will ask you many different questions about your symptoms. When do your symptoms occur? What brings them on? How severe they are? How long do they last? Your provider will also ask you about any history of depression you or your family may have, and what medications you currently take. If you have thoughts of suicide, your provider will likely refer you to a psychiatrist for further testing.
HOW IS DEPRESSION TREATED?
If you are diagnosed with depression, there are many different ways that you can be treated for your symptoms. You and your provider will work together to find the best and most effective way to treat your depression. You may undergo one or several of these treatments:
- Anti-Depressants: Anti-depressants are medications that work to correct the chemical imbalances in your brain that may be causing depression. They help relieve symptoms in more than half of people who take them after just two weeks of starting them. It is very important to take anti-depressants exactly as prescribed and to monitor all side effects. Some side effects of anti-depressants include:
- Weight gain or loss
- Loss of libido
- Sleep problems
While taking anti-depressants, it is important to talk to your provider about your progress. If you are feeling better and not experiencing as many side effects, you may not need to see him or her as often. However, if you begin feeling suicidal, it is important to talk to your provider immediately.
- Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is a treatment during which you meet with a specialist to talk about your situation and symptoms, and how to manage them. During these sessions, you will talk with your counselor about methods to manage your emotions and how to cope with your depression. Oftentimes, psychotherapy is coupled with anti-depressants to relieve symptoms of moderate to severe depression.
- Light Therapy: Often, people feel depressed during the winter when there is less sunlight during the days. This lack of sunlight affects moods. When someone develops depression during only the winter months, it is considered Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD can be treated with light therapy, where a person sits under a special lamp for 30 minutes every morning to absorb artificial sunlight.
- Hospital Treatment: Sometimes, when a person is severely depressed, they will need to have a hospital stay. This allows them to be away from stressful conditions, and in a safe place where they can be monitored to make sure that they do not harm themselves
Depression is a very common condition that affects women more than men. However, it is treatable and the treatment can be quite successful. If you have symptoms that you believe may be caused by depression, talk to your provider so that you can begin to feel better and get back to regular life.