Major depressive disorder, or major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.
Depression is a common but serious illness. Most who experience depression need treatment to get better.
People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
Signs and symptoms include:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, often accompany depression. Depression also may occur with other serious medical illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. Causes and symptoms of depression may differ in different age and occupation groups. Some forms of depression may develop under unique circumstances. Social, occupational, educational, financial stressors can contribute to depression.
To diagnose depression a psychiatrist will discuss with you any family history of depression or other mental disorder, and will obtain a complete history of your symptoms. You should discuss when your symptoms started, how long they have lasted, how severe they are, and whether they have occurred before and if so, how they were treated. The mental health professional may also ask if you are using alcohol or drugs, and if you are thinking about death or suicide. Providing complete history of symptoms and medications will assist our doctors to diagnose depression and find best treatment options.
Download publications about depression provided by NIMH*
- Women & Depression: Discovering Hope
- Men & Depression
- Depression in College Students
- Depression in Older Adults
- Depression & Heart Disease
- Depression & Stroke
- Depression & Cancer
- Depression & HIV/AIDS
- Depression & Diabetes
- Depression and Parkinson’s
Once diagnosed, a person with depression can be treated in several ways. Treatment of depression at CCCA include medication and psychotherapy.
Antidepressants primarily work on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways that they work. The latest information on medications for treating depression is available on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.
Several types of psychotherapy—or “talk therapy”—can help people with depression.
Two main types of psychotherapies—cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT)—are effective in treating depression. CBT helps people with depression restructure negative thought patterns. Doing so helps people interpret their environment and interactions with others in a positive and realistic way. It may also help you recognize things that may be contributing to the depression and help you change behaviors that may be making the depression worse. IPT helps people understand and work through troubled relationships that may cause their depression or make it worse.
For mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy may be the best option. However, for severe depression or for certain people, psychotherapy may not be enough and treatment is most effective when psychotherapy is combined with medication regimen.
Brain Stimulation Therapies
Brain stimulation therapies involve activating or touching the brain directly with electricity, magnets, or implants to treat depression and other disorders. Over 4 million patients do not receive adequate benefit from antidepressant medications which may in part be due to intolerance to their side effects. For these patients non-medication way of treatment depression may be the only solution.
* National Institute of Mental Health. All publications on this page provided by NIMH and permitted to use in our efforts to improve public health.