Top of the pageCheck Your Symptoms

Topic Overview

Life
is full of changes. Everyday events and our reactions to them sometimes
interfere with our sense of well-being and peace of mind. It is common to get
the blues or become sad when disappointed. Symptoms of
depression are the most common medical problems seen
by health professionals. It is estimated that feelings of depression will
affect about one-third of all adults in the United States at some time in their
lives.

Most people experience feelings of sadness over such losses
as divorce or separation, the death of a friend or loved one, or a job change
or layoff. These feelings are an expected reaction to a “triggering event,” and
most people get over them in time.

Several factors increase your
risk of developing feelings of depression, such as:

  • Being female. Women are twice as likely as men to
    experience feelings of depression. Hormonal changes may play a role in these
    feelings, which may be more evident during pregnancy, especially shortly after
    the birth of a baby (postpartum depression) or shortly
    before or during
    menopause. Some women experience feelings of sadness
    or depression shortly before the start of menstruation (premenstrual syndrome, or PMS).
  • Age older than 60. Feelings of depression in this
    age group are frequently overlooked because the symptoms are similar to other
    diseases and problems experienced by older adults. Adults in this age group are
    more likely to experience social isolation. Feelings of sadness may accompany
    other life events, such as retirement, death of a spouse or child, or declining
    physical abilities.
  • Personal or family history. You are more likely
    to experience feelings of depression if you have a history of previous
    depression, an
    anxiety disorder, or another mental illness. You are
    also 2 to 3 times more likely to experience feelings of depression if one or
    both of your parents were diagnosed with depression.
  • Medical
    problems-such as cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, or
    Parkinson’s disease-or alcohol or substance abuse or
    withdrawal.
  • Stressful life events, such as changing jobs, the loss
    of a job, or children leaving home.
  • Lack of family or social
    support.

Symptoms of depression that may point to a need for treatment
vary from person to person. If you experience feelings of sadness or loss of
interest in pleasurable activities plus 4 or more of the following symptoms for
2 weeks or longer, you may be depressed.

  • Changes in appetite or
    weight
  • Restlessness or decreased activity that is noticed by
    others
  • Feeling tired or sleepy all of the time
  • Trouble
    sleeping or sleeping more than usual
  • Inability to concentrate or
    make decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of
    worthlessness or guilt
  • Preoccupation with death or recurrent
    thoughts of suicide

People who feel depressed may also have physical symptoms,
such as body aches or stomach problems.

Because “mood swings” and
other emotional changes are considered a normal part of growing up, depression
in children and teens often goes unrecognized. Children and teens do develop
depression, and it can affect a child’s quality of life. If prolonged or severe
depression is left untreated, it can lead to serious outcomes, including
suicide attempts and even completed suicide. If you are thinking about suicide, talk to someone about your feelings, such as your health professional or a close friend or family member you trust. Don’t wait. If you are not able to talk with your health professional immediately, call your local suicide hotline or this suicide hotline (Canada and U.S.): 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

Depression is the most important risk factor for suicide. For more
information, see the topic
Depression.

Check your symptoms
to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Health Tools

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a concern about depression?
Yes
Concern about depression
No
Concern about depression
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Are you thinking seriously of committing suicide or harming someone else right now?
Yes
Thinking seriously of committing suicide or harming someone else
No
Thinking seriously of committing suicide or harming someone else
Have you been thinking about death or suicide a lot?
Yes
Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
No
Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Is a concern about abuse causing feelings of anxiety or depression?
Yes
Concern about abuse causing feelings of anxiety or depression
No
Concern about abuse causing feelings of anxiety or depression
Are you being treated for depression?
Yes
Being treated for depression
No
Being treated for depression
Are you worried that the treatment’s not working?
Yes
Worried treatment is not working
No
Worried treatment is not working
Has it been more than 3 weeks since you started treatment?
Yes
Treatment began more than 3 weeks ago
No
Treatment began more than 3 weeks ago
Yes
Symptoms of depression
No
Symptoms of depression
Are you concerned about self-harm?
It can include acts like cutting, burning, or choking yourself on purpose, or pushing objects under your skin (like pieces of metal, glass, or wood). People doing these acts usually are not trying to kill themselves, but the results can still be dangerous.
Yes
Concerns about self-harm
No
Concerns about self-harm
Do you think that a medicine may be causing your feelings of depression?
Think about whether the symptoms started after you began using a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing depression symptoms
No
Medicine may be causing depression symptoms

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older
    adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
    disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
    sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain
    medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
    worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery
    or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
    more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
    use, sexual history, and travel.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the
    symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
    concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
    You may need care sooner.

Symptoms of depression may
include:

  • Feeling sad or hopeless much of the time.
  • Losing interest in or not getting pleasure from activities you
    once enjoyed.
  • Not feeling as hungry as you used to, or eating a lot
    more than you used to.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Feeling restless and not able to sit still.
  • Feeling
    tired or as if you have no energy.
  • Feeling unworthy or guilty for
    no reason.
  • Finding it hard to focus, remember things, or make
    decisions.
  • Feeling anxious or worried about things, often with no
    reason.

Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can affect
your mood and cause symptoms of depression. A few examples are:

  • Medicines for depression and anxiety.
  • Seizure medicines (anticonvulsants).
  • Corticosteroids, such as
    prednisone.
  • Medicines that contain hormones, such as birth control
    pills and hormone therapy used to treat the symptoms of menopause.
  • Pain medicines.

Symptoms of depression can also be caused by the use of or
withdrawal from alcohol and illegal drugs.

The risk of a suicide attempt is
highest if:

  • You have the means to kill yourself, such as a
    weapon or medicines.
  • You have set a time and place to do
    it.
  • You think there is no other way to solve the problem or end the
    pain.

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms
    and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t
    have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and
    seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care
    sooner.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical
care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the
    next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you
    are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have
    any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
    arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don’t have
    one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an
    ambulance unless:

    • You cannot travel safely either by driving
      yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area
      where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.

The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 is also a resource.

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need
emergency care.

Call 911 or other emergency services now.

The National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255 is also a resource.

Home Treatment

If you are thinking about suicide, talk to someone about your feelings, such as your health professional or a close friend or family member you trust. Don’t wait. If you are not able to talk with your health professional immediately, call your local suicide hotline or this suicide hotline (Canada and U.S.): 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

Positive actions and feelings can
help lift your spirits. Although thinking positively may be very difficult when
you are feeling depressed, try to consider the positive side of situations and
events in your life.

Appreciate any moments when you have positive
thoughts. The following tips may help.

  • Practice positive thinking. Make statements that
    promote good thoughts. Replace negative self-talk with positive comments.
  • Take action to put more fun into your life:
    • Exercise. Running, brisk walking, and other
      forms of aerobic exercise improve symptoms of mild to moderate
      depression.
    • Work in the garden or play with a pet. Plants and pets
      can be very therapeutic. When you pet an animal, your blood pressure goes down
      and your heart rate slows. Filling the needs of animals and plants can help you
      feel useful.
    • Visit a friend. Spending time with a good friend may
      help you forget about your problems for a while and help you see the brighter
      side of life.
    • Have a massage or a manicure, or get your hair
      cut.
    • Rearrange your furniture.
  • Talk with your health professional about
    nonprescription medicines, such as
    SAM-e.

    • Talk to your health professional or
      pharmacist before taking complementary medicines.
      Some can interfere with other medicines.
    • Do not use alcohol or other mood-altering drugs while
      you are taking a nonprescription medicine.
    • Follow the directions on
      the label. Do not exceed the recommended dose.
    • If you are or could
      be pregnant, talk with your health professional before taking any medicine or
      supplement.
    • For more information on dietary supplements, visit the
      website of the Office of Dietary Supplements, within the National Institutes
      of Health, at http://ods.od.nih.gov/index.aspx.
  • Take a class or go to a free lecture at the public
    library or local hospital.
  • Take a vacation. Sometimes just getting
    away for the afternoon will brighten your mood.
  • Go to the movies or
    rent a funny movie.
  • If nothing feels fun, try doing something that
    you used to enjoy.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
treatment:

  • You feel sad, lonely, or unhappy for weeks.
  • Your symptoms become more severe or frequent.
  • You are
    not getting better as expected after starting treatment for depression.

If you think a friend or loved one is depressed, you may feel helpless.
But there are still things you can do to help the person, such as talking with him or her about getting treatment. You can offer support and be a caring friend.

Prevention

Life is full of changes. Everyday events
and our reactions to them sometimes interfere with our sense of well-being and
peace of mind. While it is common to get the “blues” or to feel sad
occasionally, you may be able to prevent feelings of depression.

  • Have a regular checkup with your health
    professional. Your health professional may evaluate your
    thyroid function and other factors. Many other
    diseases, such as
    coronary artery disease and
    diabetes, can increase your risk of feeling
    depressed.
  • Talk to your health professional about
    light therapy if you think that you feel worse during
    the winter months. Just 30 minutes of light therapy each day improves mood in
    many people with
    seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For more
    information, see the topic
    Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
  • Maintain regular sleep and eating patterns. Do not skip
    meals.
  • Try to get some exercise every day. Walking is a good way to
    start.
  • Get involved in social groups or volunteer to help others.
    Being alone makes things seem worse than they are.
  • Do not use
    alcohol or illegal drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines, or heroin, to
    “self-treat” your symptoms. A treatment plan that includes prescription
    medicine and regular visits to a health professional is much safer and more
    effective.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking
    increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease. The use of smokeless
    (spit) tobacco increases your risk for developing cancer of the mouth, neck,
    throat, and digestive tract. Your risk of developing depression increases if
    you have coronary artery disease or cancer.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

Before seeing your
health professional, it may be helpful to keep a diary of your symptoms. You
can help your health professional diagnose and treat your condition by being
prepared to answer the following questions:

  • How long have you been troubled with a depressed
    mood? What is your major symptom?
  • What was happening in your life
    when the depressed mood started?
  • How long have you had your
    symptoms? Do they come and go or are they always present?
  • Have you
    ever had a similar problem in the past? If so, how was it
    treated?
  • What makes your symptoms better or worse?
  • Do
    you have any other symptoms that may be related to your major symptom? Symptoms
    may include:

    • Rapid or irregular
      heartbeat.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Numbness or
      weakness.
    • Excessive sweating.
    • Feeling like you are not
      able to get enough air (air hunger).
    • Restlessness, irritability, or
      feeling on edge.
    • Feelings of overwhelming anxiety or fear.
  • What prescription or nonprescription medicines are
    you currently taking?
  • Are you using alcohol or illegal drugs, such
    as marijuana or cocaine, to manage your symptoms?
  • Have you ever
    attempted suicide?
  • Has a family member or close friend tried suicide or killed himself or herself?
  • Has anyone else in your family ever been
    diagnosed with a mental health problem, such as depression or an anxiety
    disorder?
  • Are you taking a medicine to treat depression? What is
    the medicine? When did you start the medicine? What is the dose that you are
    taking? Have you or your health professional changed the dose?
  • Do
    you have any
    health risks?

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

Depression and Bipolar Support
Alliance (U.S.)
www.dbsalliance.org

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (U.S.)
www.nimh.nih.gov

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP – Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David Messenger, MD

Current as ofMarch 20, 2017