Lately Lindsay hasn't felt like herself. Her friends have noticed it. Kia was surprised when Lindsay stayed home instead of joining their usual Saturday group at the mall. She spent most of the day sleeping.
Staying in more than usual isn't the only change in Lindsay. She's always been a really good student, but over the past couple of months her grades have fallen. She has trouble concentrating. She forgot to turn in a paper and is having a hard time getting motivated to study.
Lindsay feels tired all the time but has difficulty falling asleep. She's gained weight too. When her mother asks her what's wrong, Lindsay just feels like crying. But she doesn't know why. Nothing particularly bad has happened. Yet Lindsay feels sad all the time and can't shake it.
Lindsay may not realize it yet, but she is depressed.
Feeling sad, down, or discouraged are natural human emotions. They're reactions to the hassles and hurdles of life. We all feel this way at times.
We may feel sad over an argument with a friend, a breakup, or a best friend moving out of town. We might be disappointed about doing poorly on a test. Or perhaps we feel discouraged if our team can't seem to break its losing streak. The death of someone close can lead to a specific kind of sadness — grief.
Most of the time, people manage to deal with these feelings and get past them with a little time and care.
Depression is more than occasionally feeling blue, sad, or down in the dumps, though. Depression is a strong mood involving sadness, discouragement, despair, or hopelessness that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer.
Depression affects more than a person's mood. It drains the energy, motivation, and concentration a person needs for normal activities. It interferes with the ability to notice or enjoy the good things in life.
When people have depression, it affects their emotions and mood. It twists their way of thinking. Depression can also affect people physically, even causing body aches and pains. Not everyone who is depressed shows it in exactly the same way, though.
Here are some of the things people notice with depression:
People with depression may not realize they are depressed. Because self-critical thinking is part of depression, some people might mistakenly think of themselves as a failure, a bad student, a quitter, a slacker, a loser, or a bad person.
Because depression might affect how a person acts, it can be misunderstood as a bad attitude. Other people may think the person isn't trying or not putting in any effort. For example, a negative or irritable mood can cause someone to act more argumentative, disagreeable, or angry. That can make the person seem difficult to get along with or cause others to keep their distance. Low motivation, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of "why bother?" can lead someone to skip classes or school.
Some people with depression have other problems as well. These can intensify feelings of worthlessness or inner pain. For example, people who cut themselves or who have eating disorders or who go through extreme mood changes may have unrecognized depression.
When depression is recognized and treated, it often clears the way for other problems to get treated, too.
There is no single cause for depression. Many things play a role, including inherited traits from family members who may have had depression, or living in a difficult family or social environment.
Depression can happen in reaction to difficult or stressful life events. Whether a person tends to be optimistic or pessimistic can play a role in depression, too.
Depression involves the balance of naturally occurring chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, affect mood.
Many things can affect the brain's production of neurotransmitters — including daylight and seasons, a challenging social environment, life events, and certain medical conditions.
Sometimes a person can figure out how some of these factors may have contributed to feeling depressed. For example, in winter, when there's less light, some people have a tendency to a kind of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Other times, a person can become depressed for no obvious reason. Not knowing what caused someone's depression doesn't make it less real, though.
Depression can get better with the right attention and care — sometimes more easily than a person thinks.
But if it's not treated, things can stay bad or get worse. That's why people who are depressed shouldn't wait and hope it will go away on its own.
Friends or others need to step in if someone seems severely depressed and isn't getting help. The right help can mean doing all of these things:
A doctor can check for any health conditions that might be causing symptoms of depression. For example, conditions such as hypothyroidism can cause a depressed mood, low energy, and tiredness. Mono can make a person feel tired and depressed.
Finding out if another health condition is causing sadness or other symptoms that seem like depression can help someone get the right treatment.
In addition to a checkup with a doctor, it helps to meet with a mental health professional. A psychologist, psychiatrist, or other therapist can evaluate and diagnose depression and create a plan to treat it.
If someone has depression, talk therapy with a therapist or counselor is very effective in treating it. Here are some of the ways therapy can help with depression:
Treatment for depression might include talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Sometimes, therapists might recommend daily exercise, exposure to daylight, or better ways of eating. A therapist might teach relaxation skills to help someone get a good night's sleep. All of these things can affect the brain's production of neurotransmitters.
Many people find that it helps to open up to parents or other adults they trust. Simply saying something like "I've been feeling really down lately and I think I'm depressed" can be a good way to begin the discussion.
If you think you might be depressed, ask your parent to arrange an appointment with a therapist. If a parent or family member can't help, turn to your school counselor, school nurse, or a helpline to get help.
Friends and people who care about you can support you in other ways, too:
In addition to getting help from a professional therapist and support from friends and family, people with depression can do other things to help themselves.
Some simple things can have a powerful effect on mood. They include daily exercise, eating healthy foods, and getting the right amount of sleep.
Focusing on positive emotions and being with positive people can help, too. Do yoga, dance, and find creative self-expression through art, music, or journaling. Daily exercise, meditation, daylight, and positive emotions all can affect the brain's activity in ways that restore mood and well-being.
Depression can be effectively treated if you take the right steps:
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: November 2011
|National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) ANAD is a national nonprofit organization for people with eating disorders and their families. In addition to its hotline counseling, ANAD operates an international network of support groups and offers referrals to health care professionals who treat eating disorders. Contact them at: ANAD|
Highland Park, IL 60035
|National Mental Health Association (NMHA) NMHA works to improve the mental health of all Americans through advocacy, education, research, and service.|
|National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) NAMI offers resources and help for those with a mental illness.|
|American Foundation for Suicide Prevention This group is dedicated to advancing the knowledge of suicide and the ability to prevent it.|
|Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance The mission of this group is to educate patients, families, professionals, and the public about depressive and manic-depressive illnesses.|
|Self-Injury - You Are Not the Only One This site has background information and suggestions for helping people who hurt themselves.|
|National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) NIMH offers information about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses, and supports research to help those with mental illness.|
|National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (NSSP) This site provides information, a listing of events, and publications on suicide prevention.|
|5 Ways to Fight Depression It's important to take action against depression - it doesn't just go away on its own. In addition to getting professional help, here are 5 ways to feel better.|
|Suicide We all feel overwhelmed by difficult emotions or situations sometimes. If someone is seriously depressed, suicidal thinking is a real concern. Here are warning signs and ways to get help.|
|My Friend Is Talking About Suicide. What Should I Do? Have you heard that people who talk about suicide won't go through with it? That's not true. Read this article to learn some of the other warning signs that a person is considering suicide.|
|Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Sometimes after experiencing a traumatic event, a person has a strong and lingering reaction known as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Getting treatment and support can make all the difference.|
|Why Do People Get Depressed? There's no one reason why people get depressed - many different things can play a role. Find out more about the things that can trigger depression.|
|Cutting It can be hard to understand, but people who cut themselves sometimes do it because it actually makes them feel better. They are overflowing with emotions - like sadness, depression, or anger - that they have trouble expressing.|
|Talking to Parents About Depression If you feel depressed, you need to reach out for help and support. Read our tips for teens on talking to parents about depression.|
|Stress & Coping Center Visit our stress and coping center for advice on how to handle stress, including different stressful situations.|
|Seasonal Affective Disorder Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that affects some people and appears at the same time each year.|
|Finding Low-Cost Mental Health Care If you need mental health care but don't think you can afford it, you're not alone. Get tips on finding low-cost or free mental health care in this article for teens.|
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