Everyone feels sadness or grief sometimes; these feelings are normal. Feelings of sadness fade with time, but depression can cause the same feelings for months or even years. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people 15 to 44 years old and affects nearly 15 million Americans*.
Depression is a serious medical illness that can happen to anyone — men, women, teens, older adults – but it affects twice as many women as men. This is most likely because men and women are built in different ways. Women's hormones often directly affect brain chemistry, which controls feelings and moods. There are many signs, but most often people who are affected feel very sad and no longer care about the hobbies and things they used to enjoy.
Other signs may include:
- Changes in eating patterns or weight that don't have to do with changes in diet
- Sleeping more or less than normal
- Tiredness and low energy levels
- Feeling restless or being easily bothered
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Problems focusing or making choices
- Thinking about or trying to kill yourself
- Feeling hopeless
A child who suffers from depression may pretend to be sick, avoid going to school, cling to a parent or worry that a parent may die. Older children may be moody, get into trouble at school, be negative and easily bothered and feel as if no one understands them.
There are different types of depression. These include:
- Postpartum depression: Many new mothers may go through the "baby blues," but some will get postpartum depression, which is a much more serious illness. They have many hormonal and physical changes after birth, and they have more to do to take care of a new baby. They may have a hard time getting used to these changes. Women who suffer from these feelings need active care and support.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder: Some women may also have a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD happens because of the hormonal changes when a woman ovulates and before her period starts.
- Menopause: During the change into menopause, some women are also more likely to be depressed because of changes in hormone levels.
- Seasonal depression: Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is one type of depression. It happens during the winter months, when there is less sunlight. The illness most often lifts during spring and summer.
- Depression in teens: Depression in the teen years comes at a time of great change. Boys and girls are forming their own identities, dealing with sexual issues and making choices on their own for the first time in their lives. It often happens with other disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders or drug or alcohol abuse. It can also lead to a higher chance of suicide.
There is no single known cause. But a number of causes are thought to play a role, including:
- Brain chemistry: People with depression often have different chemical levels in their brains than those without it.
- Family history: Some types of depression run in families, but people can suffer from it without a family history.
- Medical causes or brain injury: Certain health problems such as a brain tumor or a brain injury can cause depression.
- Your biological clock: Less sunlight in fall and winter may upset your body's inner clock. This may lead to feelings of depression.
- Melatonin levels: The change in season can upset the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which affects mood and sleep patterns.
Depression is treatable and is best caught early. Depression can be treated with antidepressants and with psychotherapy ("talk therapy"). SAD may be treated with light therapy to help lessen the symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest changes in diet, exercise and ways to lessen stress. It may take time to find the right mixture of drugs and therapy to see results. Be sure to tell your doctor how you're feeling and be open to other types of care to find the one that works for you.
If you're worried about the sadness you're feeling, you should talk to your doctor. The doctor will carry out an exam and may prescribe medicine or other treatments.