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Don't ignore depression

If you have symptoms of depression, get medical attention right away. Treatment can relieve the symptoms and improve your quality of life.

You wouldn't put off going to the doctor if you had a broken leg. And if you cut your hand, you would bandage it. So why is it so common for depression to go untreated?

Depression, which can be more debilitating than bodily aches and pains, is an illness that is often misunderstood or unrecognized.

Many depressed people may not receive appropriate treatment because they think of depression as a personal weakness, don't recognize the symptoms or are too disabled to ask for help.

Despite the belief that someone can just work through feelings on their own, tough it out or overcome the lasting sadness, depression tends to stay until treated correctly.

The good news is that the disorder is highly treatable, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In fact, some symptoms can be relieved within just weeks of treatment. If you have any of the following symptoms of depression, tell your doctor:

  • Sadness or emptiness that doesn't go away.
  • Loss of interest in things that used to give you pleasure.
  • Less energy, more fatigue.
  • Sleeping too much, insomnia or waking up early.
  • Loss of appetite, change in weight.
  • Difficulty staying focused, remembering things or making decisions.
  • Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness or guilt.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide; suicide attempts.
  • Irritability and excessive crying.

Different kinds of depression

Depression takes on many forms, just like other illnesses, but there are defining traits that make diagnosis possible. Within the different types, there can be various symptoms, persistence and severity.

Major depression includes a combination of the above symptoms and interferes with sleep, work, appetite and activities. It occurs nearly every day for at least two weeks. Episodes of major depression can be psychologically disabling and can occur sporadically throughout life.

Persistent depressive disorder is a less severe kind of depression. It is long-term, lasting at least two years, and keeps you from feeling good or living life to its fullest, but it is not disabling. It can be marked by episodes of major depression.

Bipolar disorder is named for its polarizing mood swings that alternate between periods of depression and manic elation. Formerly called manic-depressive illness, it is often a chronic condition.

While the depressed stage looks like major depression, the manic stage is quite different: Inappropriate elation and irritability, increased talking and sexual desire, disconnected and racing thoughts, and poor judgment are some of the trademark symptoms of the manic cycle.

Reason for hope

The first step toward feeling better is having a complete physical and psychological evaluation so your healthcare providers can determine whether you have a depressive illness. From that point, if depression is diagnosed, they can begin treatment. It might include:

  • Antidepressant medications, which can help curb your symptoms. If your doctor prescribes medication, it is crucial that you don't stop taking it without your doctor's approval.
  • Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is used to help someone deal with the psychological or interpersonal problems they might be experiencing.
  • Biological therapies, which can be effective for the most severe forms of depression, include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Formerly known as "shock therapy," ECT is typically used along with antidepressants or mood-stabilizing medications.

If you think you may be depressed, discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

Reviewed 9/14/2022

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.