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Everyone gets “the blues” now and then; it’s a part of our busy, complicated lives. But when there is little joy or pleasure in your life, there may be a more serious problem. A depressed mood that stays for a while without let-up can change the way a person thinks and feels. Doctors call this "clinical depression".

Being "down in the dumps" for a long period of time (more than 2 weeks) is not normal; a person who feels this way needs medical attention. For most people, depression can be treated successfully using several kinds of therapies including "talk" therapies and medication as well as other treatment methods. Depression is a medical condition and there is no reason to suffer with so many available treatment options.

Symptoms and causes of depression

When a person is clinically depressed, his or her ability to function both mentally and physically is affected. The trouble may last for weeks, months or even years.

Here is a list of the most common signs of depression. If these symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, you should see your doctor.

  • An "empty" feeling, ongoing sadness, and/or anxiety
  • Tired, lack of energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities, including sex
  • Sleep problems, including waking up very early in the morning
  • Problems with eating and weight gain or loss
  • A lot of crying
  • Aches and pains that just won’t go away
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt, helplessness, or worthlessness, that the future looks grim
  • Constant irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

There are many types of depression that are distinguished by duration and severity of symptoms. Some are situational – attributable to a certain stressful event or situation, while others of post partum, seasonal, chronic and major are the more commonly identified types. Depression also may be seen with other conditions such as alcoholism and anxiety disorders.

Depression rates for women are higher than men, in part due to hormonal factors as seen in premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, post partum depression and premenopausal depression. The causes and symptoms of depression in women are often different then those in men and women have a greater tendency to suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Depressed women are more likely to experience strong feelings of guilt, sleep excessively, overeat and gain weight.

Women entering premenopausal and menopause are at increased risk for depression due to the changes in reproductive hormones. Women who have a history of depression are at higher risk for a depressive episode during this period.

Risk factors for depression in women are:
  • Genetics – Family history of mood disorders
  • Past history of mood disorders
  • Use of female hormones – oral contraceptives with high progesterone, drugs to treat infertility
  • Psychological stresses – concerns about money and jobs, lack of a support system
  • Use of other medications such as those to treat arthritis, heart disease, hypertension and cancer
  • Illnesses such as thyroid disease, stroke and Parkinson’s disease
Treatments and help for depression

Depression is the most treatable of all emotional or mental illnesses. About 60–80% of depressed people can be treated successfully. Depending on the case, various kinds of therapies seem to work. Treatments such as psychotherapy and support groups help people deal with major changes in life. Short-term (12–20 weeks) "talk" therapies have proven useful. One method helps patients recognize and change their negative thinking patterns that led to the depression. Another approach focuses on improving relationships with other people.

The first step to getting help for depression is to overcome any negative attitudes that might stand in the way. Because the subject of mental illness still makes many people uncomfortable, some feel that getting help is a sign of weakness. Many people mistakenly believe that a depressed person can quickly "snap out of it" or that some people are too old to be helped.

Your health care provider will work with you to determine if there are medical or drug-related reasons for the symptoms of depression. After a complete exam, you may be referred to a mental health specialist for further examination and treatment.

Antidepressant drugs also may help. These medications can improve mood, sleep, appetite, and concentration, and there are several types available. Drug therapies often take at least 4 to 12 weeks before there are real signs of progress and may need to be continued for 6 months or longer after symptoms disappear. While drug therapy is an option, it may not cure the underlying problem and is not a long-term therapy. Your doctor may initiate drug therapy as well as recommend a therapist to help you develop a long term plan to address depression.

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