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Understanding depression

By Glenna C. Bailey

Everyone has ups and downs. Sadness is a normal reaction to things that can happen in life. But depression is more than that. It’s a mood disorder that affects how people feel, think and handle daily life. 

 

See the signs

Depression isn’t the same for everyone. People may show different signs or have different symptoms, such as: 

  • Sad, anxious or “empty” mood that doesn’t go away
  • Hopelessness or pessimism
  • Guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Problems concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Problems sleeping, waking up early or oversleeping
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that have no clear cause and don’t get better with treatment

People who show these signs every day for at least two weeks may have depression. Do you see these signs in yourself or a loved one? If you do, call your primary care physician (PCP). You can also call the number on your member ID card for help.

 

Understand the causes

If you find out you have depression, just remember that it’s not your fault. Studies suggest many things can contribute to depression, like:

  • Your body
  • Your mind
  • Your genes (may run in families)
  • Your environment
  • Other illnesses, like diabetes, cancer, heart disease or Parkinson’s disease
  • Certain medicines

 

Get treatment and take care

With treatment, depression can get better. So see your PCP or mental health care provider. Find one you can be honest with and trust. Along with treatment, you can do a lot to take care of yourself. Exercise can help fight depression. Try for 30 minutes each day. Avoid drugs and alcohol. These only make it worse. Try to relieve stress. Some people enjoy meditation, yoga or Tai Chi. You’ll also want to eat healthy and get enough sleep.

It can be hard to know how to help a loved one with depression. The best advice? Help them see a mental health care provider. They’re experts in treating depression. You can also offer support and encouragement. Giving reminders to take medicine or providing rides to therapy appointments can help, too.

 

You can help prevent suicide

Increasing signs of depression can mean a higher suicide risk. These include: 

  • Threats or talk of harming themselves or others
  • Statements like “I won’t be a problem much longer” or “Nothing matters”
  • Giving away their things
  • Making a will or funeral plans
  • Buying a weapon
  • Sudden cheerfulness or calm after a phase of depression

Do you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved one? If you do, you’re not alone. And help is just one step away. You can: 

  • Call a health care professional
  • Call 911 for emergency services
  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY: 711)

 

About the author

Glenna C. Bailey is a health literacy champion, fan of the Apostrophe Protection Society and staunch supporter of the serial comma. She loves writing about consumer health and making info easier to find, understand and act on.