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Depression


Symptoms of depression can affect an individual’s body, mood, thoughts and behaviors.  An individual suffering from depression often has changes in eating and sleeping habits, self-concept and the way s/he things about the world.  Depression is not the same as sadness or a blue mood, nor it is a sign of personal weakness.  Without adequate treatment, depressive symptoms can last for months, even years.  The good news is that help is available.

There are three main types of depression.  Major depression involves by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy pleasurable activities.

A less severe type of depression, dysthymia, is characterized by chronic symptoms that are not necessarily debilitating but keep the individual from functioning at their typical level. Many people with dysthymia experience major depressive episodes at some time in their lives.

Another type of depression is bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness.  Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes: severe highs (mania) and lows (depression).  Bipolar Disorder is discussed in more detail in another section of this website.

Symptoms of depression may include:

Persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
Pessimism and guilt
Lowered self-esteem
Loss of interest or pleasure in things that were previously experienced as pleasurable
Feelings of lethargy and fatigue
Impaired concentration and memory
Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
Anxiety and irritability
Continued physical complaints that do not respond to standard medical treatment


Depression is a medical illness that can be triggered by negative life events or it can occur without warning.  Generally, scientists believe that an interaction of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to depression.  Women experience depression about twice as often as men, probably due to hormonal factors and additional stressors.  Individual’s may experience one episode or recurrent episodes of depression.

Depression can also occur with physical illness.  Being ill can cause anyone to feel sadness.  However, if the feelings do not lift, depression may be present.  It is thought that such depressions occur in about 40 percent of patients who are diagnosed with other medical conditions.  Strokes, heart attacks, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and hormone disorders are among the medical problems known to contribute to depression.  Depression and medical illnesses can occur together because medical disorders can lead to chemical imbalances that cause depression.  Relatedly, incapacitated patients or those in chronic pain can react to their distress by becoming depressed.  Depressive symptoms can occur as side effects of medications being used to treat medical illness.  When patients learn how to better manage their chronic pain or deal with needed life adjustments, the likelihood of recovery from depression is also increased.

Treatment approaches that incorporate psychiatric medication along with psychotherapy seem to be most effective.  Some people with milder forms of depressions do well with psychotherapy alone.  Medications which are sometimes used in the treatment of depression include (but are not limited to):  SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), tricyclics and  MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors).  Generally, your psychiatrist will choose a medication based on your symptom presentation, other medical problems, other medications which you take and your tolerance for specific side effects.  Although patients may see some improvement in the first few weeks of treatment, most antidepressants must be taken regularly for three to four weeks before the full therapeutic effect is taken.  Different forms of psychotherapy for depression may involve insight-oriented therapy, which attempts to help patients identify paths to problem resolution, behavioral techniques which help patients learn how to obtain more satisfaction through their own actions, interpersonal therapy which focuses on problematic relationships that can cause or worsen depression and cognitive therapy in which therapists attempt to change negative thinking patterns which contribute to depression.

Good treatment is available but the patient will need support from family and friends.  In addition, information about the illness often speeds the recovery process.  Information about depression may be obtained by contacting any of the following organizations listed below.

Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Rm. 12-105 Parklawn Building
Rockville, MD 20857
Phone: 301-443-8956
Fax: 301-443-9050
URL: http://www.samhsa.gov/

National Institute of Mental Health
Office of Communications
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Phone: 301-443-4513
Fax: 301-443-4279
Toll Free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)
TTY: 301-443-8431
Email: nimhinfo@nih.gov
URL: http://www.nimh.nih.gov

American Psychiatric Association (APA)
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209-3901
Phone: 703-907-7300
URL: http://www.psych.org/index.cfm

American Psychological Association
750 1st Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242
Phone: 202-336-5510
Toll Free: 1-800-374-2721
URL: http://www.apa.org

Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association (DRADA)
2330 West Joppa Road, Suite 100
Lutherville, MD 21093
Phone: 410-583-2919
Email: drada@jhmi.edu
URL: http://www.drada.org/

National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc. (NAFDI)
PO Box 2257
New York, NY 10116
Toll Free: 800-239-1265
URL: http://www.depression.org

Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Rm. 12-105 Parklawn Building
Rockville, MD 20857
Phone: 301-443-8956
Fax: 301-443-9050
URL: http://www.samhsa.gov/

National Institute of Mental Health
Office of Communications
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Phone: 301-443-4513
Fax: 301-443-4279
Toll Free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)
TTY: 301-443-8431
Email: nimhinfo@nih.gov
URL: http://www.nimh.nih.gov

Depression After Delivery, Inc. (DAD)
91 East Somerset Street
Raritan, NJ 08869
Toll Free: (800) 944-4773
URL: http://www.depressionafterdelivery.com

National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD)
60 Cutter Mill Road, Suite 404
Great Neck, NY 11021
Phone: 516-829-0091
Toll Free: 800-829-8289
Email: info@narsad.org
URL: http://www.narsad.org