What You Need to Know About Depression

More than 19 million men, women and children are affected by depression.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

Depression affects more than 19 million people in the United States, but what exactly is it? Depression isn’t just a sad feeling—it’s an illness that interferes with a person’s daily life and their ability to function. 

Who’s affected by depression and how:
Generally, signs of depression include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, sleeplessness (or sleeping too much), inability to concentrate, thoughts of suicide and loss of interest in favorite activities or hobbies. But depression doesn’t affect everyone in the same ways.

  • Women: More common among women than men, depression often plagues women with feelings of sadness, worthlessness and guilt. Women are more likely to seek treatment for depression than men, which may contribute to the higher rate of depression in women. Hormonal factors can influence depression in women—particularly postpartum depression—but there are many other causes, including stress, the loss of a loved one, divorce or marital issues.
  • Men: Men who battle depression often experience a loss of interest in once pleasurable activities and feel tired and irritable. These signs are often exacerbated by financial or legal woes, drug abuse and work-related stress. Depression is underreported in men, possibly due to the stigma many feel surround mental illness. Men who experience depression are more likely than women to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, and are three and a half times more likely than women to die by suicide.
  • Teens: Teenage years can be difficult ones. Teen depression isn’t just a mood--it can affect teenagers in severe ways. Anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse are common in teens with depression. Teens with depression typically express negativity, feelings of being misunderstood and may act out at school.
  • Children: A child’s behavior may be attributed to a stage but if a child is faking illness, refusing to go to school, clinging to a parent or expressing an irrational fear of a parent dying, the child may be suffering from depression. 

Causes of depression:
There are many factors that may contribute to depression. It may be caused by a combination of these and other factors, such as medications, medical problems and chemicals in the brain. 

  • Genetics: A family history of depression may mean you’re at greater risk for the illness.  
  • Stress: Trauma and stress can trigger depression. Common stressors include loss of a loved one, difficult relationships, childhood abuse and diagnosis of illness.  
  • Substance Abuse: Drugs and alcohol affect the chemistry of the brain, and can contribute to stress.

Types of depression:
There are several types of depression, including postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, which affects people in the winter months when there’s less natural sunlight, and psychotic depression, which is depression compounded by some form of psychosis, like hallucinations. Three other forms of depression include:

  • Major Depression: Major depressive episodes can occur once or many times throughout a person’s life. This form of depression is characterized by symptoms that make it hard to eat, sleep, work and enjoy day-to-day life.
  • Minor Depression: Like major depression, minor depression includes symptoms that interfere with normal daily activity, but they may be less severe or last for shorter periods of time.
  • Dysthymic Depression: This form of depression, also called chronic depression, is characterized by the same symptoms as major or minor depression, but they last for longer periods of time—two years or longer.     

Treatments for depression:
The first step to treating depression is speaking with your doctor or mental health professional. Depression is often treated with medication and psychotherapy, and in very severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy, or the use of electric currents.

Antidepressants are a mainstay in treating depression, but individuals experiencing delusions or hallucinations may need additional medications. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help individuals discover new ways of thinking and behaving, which may change habits that contribute to depression. Talk therapy has also been used to help people who have attempted suicide or have self-harmed in other ways.    

If you think you or a loved one is experiencing signs of depression, it’s important to seek help from a doctor or mental health specialist. It may be helpful to assess your symptoms before speaking to your health care provider, so he or she can provide the best possible care. Bring a friend to your appointments for support and offer to do the same for a friend or family member.  

You can find therapists and make appointment to speak to someone online at Sharecare.com. The National Institute of Mental Health is another great resource for information and support. 

Get immediate help if you or someone you know is experiencing serious warning signs, like thoughts of suicide or self-harm. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for help, or dial 911 if a situation is life-threatening.

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