Depression Diagnosis, Types, Symptoms, & Treatment

Depression Diagnosis, Types, Symptoms, & Treatment



Depression is an illness that makes you feel sad, lose interest in things you used to enjoy, withdraw from others, and have little energy. It's more than normal sadness, grief, or low energy. Most people get better with medicine, counseling, or a combination of the two.

After you have had an episode of depression, you are more likely to have it again.

What is depression?

What is depression?

Depression is an illness that affects how a person feels, thinks, and acts. It's different from normal feelings of sadness or grief. A person who has depression may have less energy. He or she may lose interest in daily activities and may feel sad and grouchy for a long time. Depression is a common illness. It affects men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

Many people, and sometimes their families, feel embarrassed or ashamed about having depression. But it isn't a sign of personal weakness. It's not a character flaw. A person who is depressed is not crazy. Depression is a medical illness. It's caused by changes in the natural chemicals in the brain. Most experts believe that a combination of family history (a person's genes) and stressful life events can cause depression.

Health problems may also cause depression or make it worse. It's common for people with long-term (chronic) health problems like coronary artery disease, diabetes, cancer, or chronic pain to feel depressed.

It's important to know that depression can be treated. The first step toward feeling better is often just seeing that the problem exists.

Depression Is Common

Depression Is Common

Even though depression is a very treatable disease, millions of people suffer day after day from feelings of sadness and hopelessness-- like they're just surviving life, instead of enjoying it.

In fact, as many as 1 out of every 5 people deals with serious depression at least once.

So having depression is pretty common.

But ... unfortunately ... many people don't get the help they need-- either through counseling ... or medicine ... or both.

So if you're concerned about your mood, tell your doctor or counselor.

And know that there is help and hope for depression.

Understanding Postpartum Depression

Understanding Postpartum Depression

Having a baby can bring on so many different emotions and expectations.

People around you might expect you to feel joy and excitement.

And you may want to feel those things.

But sometimes after having a baby, you may feel things you didn't expect to feel.

After having a baby, it's common to get what's known as the baby blues.

When that happens, you may feel happy one minute and sad the next.

But the baby blues usually go away in a couple of weeks.

When those feelings last longer, it may be a condition called postpartum depression.

If you have postpartum depression, you may experience intense feelings.

You may cry often or lose the ability to find joy in your life.

You may feel like you could harm your baby or yourself.

Or you may feel distant from your baby.

Depression feels different for every person, so if you are depressed, you may experience other feelings too.

Sometimes those feelings may not be what you might expect when you're experiencing depression.

For instance, you may feel irritable or angry.

While postpartum depression is usually seen as something that happens after a baby is born, sometimes these symptoms begin during pregnancy.

The exact cause of postpartum depression isn't known.

But you can be at risk for many reasons, including the hormone changes that happen during pregnancy and a history of depression or other mood disorders.

It's important to know that you didn't do anything to make this happen.

Anyone can experience postpartum depression.

And having it doesn't make you a bad parent.

Postpartum depression is a medical condition that requires treatment.

Treatment usually includes medicine and counseling.

So if you think you might have postpartum depression, talk to your doctor.

Together, you can find a treatment that works best for you.

You might also want to talk to your doctor about taking antidepressant medicine while breastfeeding.

There are many antidepressants that are safe to take while you're breastfeeding.

If you have postpartum depression, it's important for you to get the support you need.

Ask your family and friends for help with things like preparing meals and cleaning up around the house.

You can also ask them to watch your baby while you rest or take time to care for yourself.

Remember, having postpartum depression doesn't mean you're alone.

Many people experience it.

There's help for you out there, and it's important to get treatment.

You know yourself best.

If you feel like something is off, reach out for help.

The sooner you get help and treatment, the sooner you'll be on the road to feeling better.

Pregnancy: What should you know about postpartum depression?

Pregnancy: What should you know about postpartum depression?

The “baby blues” are common for the first 1 to 2 weeks after birth. For some women, these feelings last longer and are more intense. This is called postpartum depression.

With postpartum depression, you may lose sleep, feel cranky, and cry easily. You might feel happy one minute and sad the next. Some women have trouble caring for and bonding with their baby. Hormone changes are one cause of these emotional changes.

If you have symptoms that last for more than a few weeks or you feel very depressed, talk to your doctor. Treatment can help you feel better and care for your baby.

Postpartum depression can be treated with counseling or medicines, or sometimes both. Getting regular exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep may also help you feel better. Having support from family, friends, or other mothers may help too.

Seasonal affective disorder: Overview

Seasonal affective disorder: Overview

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that some people get during the short days of fall and winter. You may feel unhappy and tired during fall and winter. But you feel more cheerful and have more energy in spring and summer. You may gain weight and exercise less in winter. You also may feel more grouchy during winter. You may find it hard to get along with family and coworkers.

Doctors think that having less natural light may cause SAD. Your doctor may recommend light therapy. This helps many people with SAD. With light therapy, you are near artificial bright lights for a set period of time each winter day. Most people do this in the morning. You should feel better soon after you start light therapy. You may need to keep doing it until spring. Your doctor also may prescribe antidepressant medicine and suggest exercise.

How is depression diagnosed?

How is depression diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you are depressed, you may be asked questions about your health and feelings. Your doctor may have you fill out a form. Your doctor also may:

  • Do a physical exam.
  • Do tests to make sure your depression isn't caused by a disease such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or anemia. Depending on your history and risk factors, your doctor may order other tests.
  • Ask if you've had any thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • Ask if you have symptoms of bipolar disorder.
  • Ask you about symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
  • Ask you if you have recently lost a loved one.
  • Ask about your drug and alcohol use.

How is depression treated?

How is depression treated?

Treatment for depression includes counseling, medicines, and lifestyle changes. Your treatment will depend on you and your symptoms. Counseling and medicine usually work well to treat depression. Sometimes counseling alone is enough.

You and your health care team will work together to find the best treatment for you.


Antidepressant medicines may improve or completely relieve the symptoms of depression. Whether you need to take medicine depends on your symptoms. You and your doctor can decide if you need medicine and which medicine is right for you.

You may start to feel better within 1 to 3 weeks after you start taking antidepressant medicine. It can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks to see more improvement.


Counseling and psychotherapy are important parts of treatment for depression. You will work with a mental health professional such as a psychologist, licensed professional counselor, clinical social worker, or psychiatrist. Together you will develop an action plan to treat your depression.

Lifestyle changes

You can do many things to help yourself when you feel depressed or are waiting for your medicine to work. These things include being active, getting enough sleep, and eating a balanced diet.

Other treatment

Other treatments for depression include:

  • Brain stimulation. This includes:
    • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Electrodes that produce a brief electrical stimulation to the brain are placed on the head. The stimulation produces a short seizure that is thought to balance brain chemicals.
    • Deep brain stimulation. A device that uses electricity to stimulate the brain is put in your head. It is used for Parkinson's disease. But it has not been well studied for depression.
    • Vagus nerve stimulation. A generator the size of a pocket watch is placed in your chest. Wires go up from the generator to the vagus nerve in your neck. The generator sends tiny electric shocks through the vagus nerve to the brain.
    • Transcranial magnetic stimulation. An electromagnet is placed on your head. It sends magnetic pulses that stimulate your brain.
  • Complementary therapies. Always tell your doctor if you are using any of these types of therapies. They include:
    • Massage therapy, yoga, and other relaxation exercises.
    • Fish oil containing omega-3 fatty acids.
    • SAM-e (S-adenosylmethionine).

Treatment for Depression

Treatment for Depression

Having good support--people you can talk to-- can help a lot when you're fighting depression.

It's a hard thing to deal with all by yourself.

There are online communities where you can talk to other people who are dealing with depression. And you can do it without using your real name. And remember, counseling can help too.

Talking with a counselor can help you understand the things in your life that keep you feeling down and find ways to cope with them. Depression medicine can help you stop feeling down, and that will make it easier for you to start practicing these new life skills. And getting good sleep and regular exercise and avoiding alcohol and drugs can help too.

What puts you at risk for depression?

What puts you at risk for depression?

You may be more likely to get depressed if:

  • Someone in your family has had depression. You may have inherited a trait that makes you more likely to have depression.
  • You have had depression before.
  • You have another mental health problem, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse disorder, or anxiety.

Other things that can increase your risk of depression include getting older, having a chronic health problem, and having a history of physical or sexual abuse.

Some people become depressed after a stressful life event, like losing a job or getting a divorce. Sometimes even happy life events, like getting married or a promotion, can trigger depression. This is because of the stress that comes with change.

You also may get depressed even if there is no reason you can think of.

How can you help prevent depression?

How can you help prevent depression?

Little is known about how to prevent depression, but getting exercise and avoiding alcohol and drugs may help. Exercise may also improve symptoms of mild depression. Alcohol and drugs can contribute to depression.

You may be able to prevent depression from coming back or keep your symptoms from getting worse if you:

  • Take your medicine as prescribed.
  • Continue to take your medicine after your symptoms improve.
  • Continue a type of counseling called cognitive-behavioral therapy after your symptoms improve.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Get treatment right away if you notice that symptoms of depression are coming back or getting worse.
  • Have healthy sleep patterns.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol.

Depression treatment: When to call

Depression treatment: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You hear voices.
  • You feel much more depressed.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are having problems with your depression medicine.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Find a provider today!

Harvard Pilgrim has a large and growing network of behavioral health providers who offer expertise across dozens of behavioral health care specialties. Search our online directory to find a provider near you. 


© 2016- Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.