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Depression

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It's real, common, and treatable

It's more than just "the blues."

Depression is different from feeling down or sad, which nearly everyone experiences from time to time. Depression is a real and serious medical illness that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and it's more common than many people realize.

But there is good news. Although depression just doesn't go away on its own, it can be treated — and many people who get help do overcome it.

Treatment usually requires counseling, medication, or (when necessary) a combination of both. There are also some steps you can take on your own to improve your mood.

If untreated, depression can last for months or even years, and can greatly affect your and your family's quality of life. Feelings of depression can also lead to suicidal thoughts or threats.

We can help. Learn about mental health services at Kaiser Permanente.

Are you depressed?

We care about your health and helping you make wise care decisions. Understanding what kind of care you need is important.

If you think you have a medical or psychiatric emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. Do not attempt to access emergency care through this website. Learn more about what a medical or psychiatric emergency is.

Depression isn't always easy to recognize, but it does have certain signs and symptoms. Use our interactive tool to find out if you or someone you know may have depression

Death of a loved one, job loss, a divorce, or a separation can cause short periods of emotional upset. These feelings of grief and temporary sadness are not the same as depression.

Signs of depression

  • Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy.
  • Feeling down, depressed, irritable, or hopeless. (In children or teens, this may be irritable mood.)
  • Thoughts that life isn't worth living or that you would be better off dead.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty.
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • Unexplained decrease or increase in appetite. (Gained or lost 5 percent of your body weight during the last month.)
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, remembering, and making decisions.
  • Feeling tired a lot of the time; having less energy
  • Your feelings are interfering with your ability to work or take care of your daily responsibilities.
  • Feeling restless, unable to sit still, or unusually slow in movement or action.

Talking about depression

Depression can be hard to talk about. If you think you're suffering from depression, you may want to print this page and bring it with you to your appointment to help break the ice when you talk to your doctor.

Remember, depression isn't a weakness or character flaw, and a depressed person can't just "snap out of it." Getting help is key to overcoming depression.

Who experiences depression?

Depression affects children and teens as well as adults.

Women experience depression about twice as often as men. Hormonal factors such as menstrual cycle changes, miscarriage, childbirth, menopause and perimenopause, and stress can all contribute to depression.

Women with depression are much more likely to be victims of physical abuse. If someone is threatening or hurting you, tell your doctor. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (toll free) if you need immediate help.

Though it's more common in women, depression affects at least 6 million men in the U.S. Men often experience depression differently and may have different ways of coping with the symptoms.  Learn about depression in men.

Learn more about what increases your risk for depression.

Medications

Medications are commonly used to treat depression, and they can be very effective.

Antidepressant medications change the balance of chemicals in the brain that often cause depression. You may need to try several antidepressants before you find the one that works best for you.

Most people who take antidepressants start to feel better in 2 to 4 weeks, but it can take up to 12 weeks to feel the medication's full effects. It is very important to keep taking your antidepressant medication even after you feel better. People usually stay on antidepressants for at least 7 to 15 months.

If you're currently taking antidepressant medication

  • Plan ahead — refill your prescriptions before you run out.
  • The side effects of many medications are temporary and may decrease over time. If you continue to experience side effects, ask your physician for help managing them.
  • Check with your physician before you stop taking any medications. (It can be dangerous to stop taking antidepressants suddenly.)
  • Always tell your physician about any dietary supplements, herbal products, or over-the-counter medications you are taking (or considering taking), because they may interfere with your other medications.

Medications commonly prescribed for depression:

Visit our drug encyclopedia for a complete list of antidepressant medications.

Get help deciding whether antidepressants are right for you.

Complementary and alternative therapy for depression

Taking herbs such as St. John’s wort with antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine (Prozac) can be dangerous. Ask your doctor before using herbs to see if they are safe for you. You can also visit our Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database to find reliable information on herbs, vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements and natural products.

  • SAM-e
  • St. John's wort (Note: For people with mild or moderate depression, it is not clear whether or not St. John's wort is helpful. St. John's wort is not recommended for people with severe symptoms of depression.)

Reviewed by: Andrew Bertagnolli, PhD and Craig Robbins, MD, July 2013
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2013 Kaiser Permanente