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Understanding depression

Know the signs, what you can do and when to get help.

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Everyone feels sad or blue once in a while. Usually, the feelings go away in a day or two. But if feelings of sadness last longer than two weeks, you may be suffering from depression. In this case, it’s important you talk with your doctor. The good news is that depression can be treated.

What is depression?

Depression is a common, but serious condition. It affects how you think, feel and act. About 16 million people suffer from depression each year. That’s about one in 15 people in America. Depression can range from mild to severe. Signs of depression can change from person to person.

What causes it?

The cause of depression isn’t always a clear. But there are things that may raise the chances for depression:

    • Medical issues. Being sick can be stressful. It can also lead to feelings of sadness and depression.
    • Trauma. People who live with violence or abuse may be more likely to get depressed. Sometimes, problems with childhood abuse don’t show up until later life.
    • Drug and alcohol abuse. Nearly one in three people who have issues with addiction also suffer from depression.
    • Chemical imbalances. Changes in the chemicals in a person’s brain may cause feelings of depression.
    • Family history. If someone in your family has had depression, you may be more likely to have it, too.

What are the signs?

If you’re depressed, you may not want to be around people. You may start to pull away and be by yourself. This kind of withdrawal may affect those around you.

Here are some other common symptoms of depression:

    • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
    • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy
    • Feeling sad, hopeless, guilty or helpless
    • Getting tired easily or feeling restless
    • Finding it hard to focus or make decisions
    • Having thoughts of death or suicide

Each person is different. If you feel depressed for two weeks or more, it’s time to speak with your doctor.

Ask for help

Your first step should be to talk with your doctor. You’ll talk about your health history and get a physical exam. Some medicines or medical problems can have effects like depression. Your doctor may order lab tests to help rule them out. Then, your doctor will decide how best to treat you.

Stay connected and be patient 

Try to be active and get some exercise. Be around other people. Talk to people you trust and ask for support, too. But don’t expect everything to be okay right away. You should return over time, as you get the help you need. Also, if your doctor prescribes you medicine for depression, it may take weeks to work. You may need to try different medicines to find what works best for you. If you’re concerned your medicine isn’t helping, talk to your doctor.

IMPORTANT: If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, get help right away. Call your doctor, 911 or a suicide hotline like
1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) right away. Or have someone drive you to your nearest emergency department.


    • National Institute of Mental Health. Depression. Accessed November 16, 2017.
    • American Psychiatric Association. What is depression? Accessed November 16, 2017.
    • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Depression. Accessed November 16, 2017.

Last Updated: November 16, 2017

The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.