- Depression is a mood disorder where you'll likely experience a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in sleep or appetite, and difficulty thinking or concentrating.
- While you'll need to see a doctor for a true diagnosis, you can take our depression quiz to gauge your symptoms and determine the appropriate next steps.
- Overall, most patients can treat their depression and reduce symptoms with a combination of lifestyle changes, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medication.
- This articlewas medically reviewedby Alex Dimitriu, MD, psychiatrist and founder ofMenlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine.
- This story is part of Insider's guide to Depression.
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the world, affecting more than 264 million people globally.
Yet, data from the American Public Health Association shows that up to 70% of people worldwide don't seek help for mental health conditions due to stigma, lack of information, and lack of access to treatment.
If you or someone you know might have depression, you can get immediate help from Samaritans hotlines here. In this article, we discuss signs, symptoms, and treatment options for depression, as well as a science-backed quiz.
Take the quiz
Methodology: This quiz is based on the DSM-5 criteria for major depressive disorder, as well as the patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) that medical professionals use to screen patients with depressive symptoms.
Editor's note: The results of this quiz should not be read as a diagnosis. To truly diagnose depression, a doctor must also determine whether depressive feelings could be caused by normal bereavement or loss, another mental or physical disorder, and medication or other drugs.
What is depression?
Depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD) or clinical depression, is a medical condition that's different from feelings of sadness.
If you're sad, there is usually a cause, such as grief or a bad day at work. These feelings are mainly related to the specific situation that caused them, and should be resolved in time. You'll often be able to make yourself feel better — perhaps by talking about your feelings with a friend or blowing off steam through an activity you enjoy.
But if you're depressed, you'll likely experience a gradual onset of symptoms, such as a lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in sleep and appetite, and difficulty thinking and concentrating.
These symptoms will generally have a significant negative impact on daily life for at least two weeks. While depression can be triggered by a variety of specific situations, it's commonly caused by genetic factors.
"Often when someone is depressed, they have a history of depression, bipolar, or a mood disorder in the family," says Sheila Josephson, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and clinical social worker.
Signs of depression
Typically, the major symptoms of depression are:
- A constantly low mood
- Loss of enjoyment or interest in activities
- Change in appetite
- Insomnia, restless sleeping, or oversleeping
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulty in concentrating, making decisions, or memory
- Thoughts of suicide
Depression can have physical symptoms, too, such as fatigue or unexplained body aches and pains. This can often imitate other illnesses, like thyroid conditions or a Vitamin D deficiency.
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, reach out to a care provider — whether a primary care doctor or a mental health specialist. Then, you'll undergo a more thorough evaluation before a diagnosis of depression is given.
"That should include a physical exam and often some lab work," says Beth Salcedo, MD, former president at The Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "It would involve a lengthy discussion of symptoms and past medical and mental health history, along with family history."
Lifestyle changes to help manage depression
Along with therapy and medication, there are a few common lifestyle changes that anyone can use to improve their mental health and help relieve depressive symptoms:
Good nutrition is vital for keeping your body chemically and hormonally balanced.
Make sure you avoid or limit sugar and caffeine consumption, which can cause abrupt mood swings. Instead, incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, along with oily fish and lean protein.
If you're looking for an eating plan to try, the Mediterranean diet is touted by dietitians and may have mental health benefits.
Avoid alcohol and drugs
For those experiencing depression, it's common to turn to alcohol and drugs for relief. However, alcohol is a depressant, which will ultimately exacerbate depressive symptoms.
Many drugs also increase the risk of psychosis or depression through their interaction with the nervous system.
Exercise releases neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which boost and enhance your mood.
A 2016 meta-study of over one million people found that exercise significantly improves mental health — dividing the sample into three sections, the least fit group were 75% more likely to have depression than the fittest group.
And it doesn't need to be traditional exercise like running. A 2019 meta-study on dance movement therapy (DMT) found that it was an effective remedy for depression in adults, for its combined exercise and social benefits.
Get enough sleep
Good sleep hygiene, such as not looking at phone, TV, or laptop screens an hour before bed — and instead creating a relaxing evening routine — can help improve sleep quality.
For example, a 2008 review noted multiple studies that found treating sleep and insomnia correlated significantly with improved depressive symptoms.
Try mindfulness meditation
For example, a 2014 meta-review at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found 30 to 40 minutes of daily meditation in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program improved those with mild depressive symptoms.
Starting with 5 or 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation can be an important way to strengthen mental health — and here's a guide for how to meditate on your own.
If you think you might have depression, it's important to seek help from a licensed health professional. A therapist, counselor, or your primary care doctor is a perfect place to start.
And if you're worried about a friend or family member, Josephson recommends talking to them in a non-judgemental way about different options for care.
"When you have that conversation, don't place blame: be positive, and remind them how much you care for them," she says.
Psychotherapy is a common treatment for depression. According to Salcedo, types of therapy for depression usually include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Depression
CBT is one of the most effective talk therapies. It helps patients relearn the way they think by challenging negative thoughts, particularly when it comes to feelings of self-worth: the therapy follows the theory that if negative thinking is corrected and replaced with positive thinking, the symptoms of depression will be lessened.
A 2018 paper referred to CBT as the "gold standard of psychotherapy" — as it is currently the most widely studied and proven type of therapy. In fact, one 2009 study found that cognitive therapies could be as effective as medication, and even have longer-lasting effects.
However, therapies for depression are not one-size-fits-all, and a combination of multiple types of treatment will likely be needed.
"Which is most effective depends on many factors, including the availability of therapies and compliance on the part of the patient," says Salcedo. "All have shown themselves to be highly effective though, and sometimes in combination."
Medication can also be an effective treatment for depression, usually in addition to therapy. That's because depression is thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the body, and antidepressants help to combat this imbalance.
According to Salcedo the most commonly prescribed antidepressants are called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Examples of SSRIs include:
Medication is used to help patients get the most out of their therapy, says Salcedo, particularly when their symptoms are severe and debilitating.
Studies have found that SSRIs, along with SSNRIs, a similar class of medication, are the most effective antidepressants. In fact, between 40 to 60% of people who took these medications experienced improvement in moderate to severe depressive symptoms.
Antidepressants are typically taken for one or two years, depending on the severity of symptoms. Josephson notes that those who commit to their prescribed medication and therapy can expect positive results, but that if patients come off their medication too early, depressive episodes can become a recurrent problem.
The bottom line
If you think you may be depressed, it's important to talk it over with a doctor. Only a licensed health professional can determine whether you have depression and get you the help that you need.
If you need immediate help or have had thoughts of harming yourself or others, Samaritans have a globally accessible suicide prevention hotline in 38 countries.
While difficult to manage, depression is treatable. Overall, a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can help those with depression to recover and avoid future relapses.
Related articles fromHealth Reference:
- The foods that fight depression and keep you happy
- Exercise for depression: How regular physical activity can help mental health
- Vitamin D and depression: How Vitamin D may affect your mood
- Why depression makes you tired and how to deal with fatigue
- What is seasonal depression: why you may feel down during the winter
Rebecca Cairns is a freelance writer for Insider.
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For instance, how does an imbalance in brain chemistry or poor nutrition relate to depression? Is there a relationship between the stressful, busier lives of today's society and the rise of depression? How can grief or a major medical condition lead to overwhelming sadness and depression?Which symptoms or warning signs are common among individuals who may be experiencing depression check all that apply? ›
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.
- Feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities.
- Depression is a common mental disorder.
- Globally, an estimated 5% of adults suffer from depression.
- More women are affected by depression than men.
- Depression can lead to suicide.
- There is effective treatment for mild, moderate and severe depression.
Whatever the cause, your first step is to let your doctor know how you're feeling. They may refer you to a mental health specialist to help figure out the type of depression you have. This diagnosis is important in deciding the right treatment for you.What does a mental breakdown look like? ›
feel isolated — disinterested in the company of family and friends, or withdrawing from usual daily activities. feel overwhelmed — unable to concentrate or make decisions. be moody — feeling low or depression; feeling burnt out; emotional outbursts of uncontrollable anger, fear, helplessness or crying.Do I have a mental illness or am I overreacting? ›
If mood changes persist for a certain period of time—in many cases, longer than two weeks—it could indicate a deeper issue. Similarly, if someone cannot identify a cause or source for their worsening moods, they may need to speak with a mental health professional.What are the 4 main causes of depression? ›
- Family history. Though there are no specific genes that we can look at and trace to depression, if your family members have had depression, you are more likely also to experience depression. ...
- Illness and health issues. ...
- Medication, drugs, and alcohol. ...
The 'monoamine hypothesis,' which suggests a deficiency or imbalances in the monoamine neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, as the cause of depression has been the central topic of depression research for approximately the last 50 years.What questions to ask students about depression? ›
|For most of the time over the past two weeks|
|1.||Have you had trouble keeping your mind on things you were reading, or watching on television?||YES|
|2.||Have you had more trouble with your memory than usual?||YES|
|3.||Have you feeling unusually tired every day?||YES|
|4.||Have you found it hard to enjoy life?||YES|
- During the last month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?
- During the last month, have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?
- What is mental health? ...
- What do I do if the support doesn't help? ...
- Can you prevent mental health problems? ...
- Are there cures for mental health problems? ...
- What causes mental health problems? ...
- What do I do if I'm worried about my mental health? ...
- How do I know if I'm unwell?