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Depression: You Don't Have to Feel This Way

What is depression?

When doctors talk about depression, they mean the medical illness called major depression. Someone with major depression has symptoms like those listed below nearly every day, all day, for 2 weeks or longer.  There is also a "minor" form of depression with less severe symptoms. Both have the same causes and treatment.

If you're depressed, you may also have headaches, other aches and pains, digestive problems and problems with sex. An older person with depression may feel confused or have trouble understanding simple requests.

Symptoms of depression

  • Losing or no interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, including sex

  • Feeling sad or empty

  • Crying easily or crying for no reason

  • Feeling slowed down or feeling restless and unable to sit still

  • Feeling worthless or guilty

  • Change in appetite; unintended change in weight, gain or loss

  • Thoughts about death or suicide

  • Trouble thinking, recalling things or focusing on what you're doing

  • Problems concentrating or trouble making everyday decisions 

  • Problems sleeping, especially in the early morning, or wanting to sleep all of the time

  • Headaches, backaches or digestive problems

  • Feeling tired all of the time

  • Loss of energy

  • Feeling numb emotionally, perhaps even to the point of not being able to cry

  • Feeling agitated, cranky or sluggish

What causes depression?

Your brain has chemicals that help control your moods. Depression seems to be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it hard for the cells to communicate with one another.  When you don't have enough of these chemicals or when your brain doesn't respond to them properly, you may become depressed.

Depression can be genetic (meaning it can run in families). Abusing drugs or alcohol can also lead to depression. Some medical problems and medications can lead to depression.

Depression can be linked to events in your life, such as the death of someone you love, a divorce or job loss. Taking certain medicines, abusing drugs or alcohol, or having other illnesses can also lead to depression. Depression isn't caused by personal weakness, laziness or lack of willpower.

How is depression diagnosed?

Sometimes depression is first recognized by friends or family members.

If you're having symptoms of depression, be sure to tell your doctor so you can get help. Don't expect your doctor to be able to guess that you're depressed just by looking at you. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner the depression will lift.

Once you tell your doctor how you're feeling, he or she may ask you some questions about your symptoms, about your health and about your family history of health problems. Your doctor may also give you a physical exam and do some tests.

How will I know if I am depressed?

People who are depressed have most or all of the above symptoms nearly every day, all day, for 2 or more weeks. One of the symptoms must be depressed mood or loss of interest in daily activities.

How is depression treated?

Depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medicines called antidepressants can correct this imbalance. If your doctor prescribes an antidepressant medicine for you, follow his or her advice on how to take it.

These medicines can take a few weeks to start working, so be patient. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor before you stop taking any medicine or if you have any unusual symptoms.

How you think about yourself and your life can also play a part in depression. Counseling can help you identify and stop negative thoughts and replace them with more logical or positive thinking. Many people who are depressed, and their families, benefit from counseling or "talk therapy."

Depression can be treated with medicine or counseling, or with both. These treatments are very effective. Medicine may be particularly important for severe depression.

What if my doctor prescribes medicine?

Many medicines can be used to treat depression. These medicines are called antidepressants and they work very well. They correct the chemical imbalance in the brain that causes depression.

Antidepressants work differently for different people. They also have different side effects.

So, even if one medicine bothers you or doesn't work for you, another may help. You may notice improvement as soon as 1 week after you start taking the medicine.

But you probably won't see the full effects for about 6 to 8 weeks. You may have side effects at first but they tend to lessen after a couple of weeks.

How long will I need medicine?

How long you'll need to take the medicine depends on your depression. Your doctor may want you to take medicine for 4 to 6 months or longer. You need to take the medicine long enough to reduce the chance that the depression will come back. Talk with your doctor about any questions you have about your medicine.

What is psychotherapy?

In psychotherapy, you talk with your family doctor, a psychiatrist or a therapist about things that are going on in your life. The focus may be on your thoughts and beliefs or on your relationships. Or the focus may be on your behavior, how it's affecting you and what you can do differently. Psychotherapy often lasts for a limited time, such as 8 to 20 visits.

Will I need to go to the hospital?

Depression can usually be treated through visits to your doctor. Treatment in the hospital may be needed if you have other medical conditions that could affect your treatment or if you're at high risk of suicide.

How long will the depression last?

This depends on how soon you get help. Left untreated, depression can last for weeks, months or even years. The main risk in not getting treatment is suicide. Treatment can help depression lift in 6 to 8 weeks, or less.

Getting through depression

  • Pace yourself. Don't expect to do everything you normally can. Set a realistic schedule.

  • Don't believe all of your negative thinking, such as blaming yourself or expecting to fail. This thinking is part of depression. These thoughts will go away as your depression lifts.

  • Get involved in activities that make you feel good or feel like you've achieved something.

  • Avoid making big life decisions when you're depressed. If you must make a big decision, ask someone you trust to help you.

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Both make depression worse. Both can cause dangerous side effects with your antidepressants.

  • Physical activity seems to cause a chemical reaction in the body that may improve your mood. Exercising 4 to 6 times a week for at least 30 minutes each time is a good goal. But even less activity can be helpful.

  • Try not to get discouraged. It will take time for your depression to lift fully.

What about suicide?

People with depression sometimes think about suicide. This thinking is part of the depression. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself, tell your doctor, friends or family, or call your local suicide hot line.

Get help right away. The good news is that there are people who can help you, and depression can be treated.

Reasons to get help for depression

  • Early treatment helps keep depression from getting worse or lasting a long time.

  • Thoughts of suicide are common in people with depression. The risk of suicide is higher if you don't get treatment for your depression. When depression is successfully treated, the thoughts of suicide will go away.

  • Treatment can help you return to your "normal" self, enjoying life.

  • Treatment can help prevent depression from coming back.

Does treatment for depression usually work?

Yes. Treatment helps between 80% and 90% of people with depression.

Depression and Older Adults: What It Is and How to Get Help

  • What causes depression in Older adult?

    • Depression is not a normal part of growing older, but it is common in adults age 65 and over. Retirement, health problems and the loss of loved ones are things that happen to older adults. Feeling sad at these times is normal. But if these feelings persist and keep you from your usual activities, you should talk to your doctor.

  • Why is depression in older adults hard to recognize?

    • It can be hard to tell the difference between depression and illnesses such as dementia. Also, older adults may not talk to their doctor about their sad or anxious feelings because they are embarrassed. But depression is nothing to be embarrassed about. It is not a personal weakness. It's a medical illness that can be treated.

  • What about suicide?

    • Thinking about suicide can be part of depression. Older adults with depression are at risk for suicide. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself, tell your doctor, friends or family right away, or call your local suicide hot line (listed in your phone book). The thoughts of suicide will go away after the depression is treated.

Depression After a Heart Attack

  • What does depression have to do with my heart attack?

    • As many as 65% of people who have a heart attack report feeling depressed. Women, people who have been depressed before, and people who feel alone and without social or emotional support are at a higher risk for feeling depressed after a heart attack.

    • Being depressed can make it harder for you to recover. However, depression can be treated.

  • What else can I do to help myself feel better?

    • Many times people feel depressed because they are inactive and aren't involved in social and recreational activities. You may find that participating in a hobby or recreational activity improves your mood.

    • Interacting more with other people or beginning an exercise program can also help you feel better.

    • Many people who have had a heart attack benefit physically and mentally from a cardiac rehabilitation program.

Depression and Alzheimer's Disease

  • Do people who have Alzheimer's disease become depressed?

    • Yes. Depression is very common among people who have Alzheimer's disease. In many cases, they become depressed when they realize that their memory and ability to function are getting worse.

    • Unfortunately, depression may make it even harder for a person who has Alzheimer's disease to function, to remember things and to enjoy life.

  • How can I tell if my family member who has Alzheimer's disease is depressed?

    • It may be difficult for you to know if your family member is depressed. You can look for some of the typical signs of depression, which include the following:

      • Not wanting to move or do things (called apathy)

      • Expressing feelings of worthlessness and sadness

      • Refusing to eat and losing weight

      • Sleeping too much or too little

      • Other signs of depression include crying and being unusually emotional, being angry or agitated, and being confused.

    • Your family member who has Alzheimer's disease may refuse to help with his or her own personal care (for example, getting dressed or taking medicines). He or she may wander away from home more often.

    • Alzheimer's disease and depression have many symptoms that are alike. It can be hard to tell the difference between them.

  • What medicines can help reduce depression?

    • Antidepressant medicines can be very helpful for people who have Alzheimer's disease and depression. These medicines can improve the symptoms of sadness and apathy, and they may also improve appetite and sleep problems.  These medicines are not habit-forming. The doctor may also suggest other medicines that can help reduce upsetting problems, such as hallucinations or anxiety.

  • What can I do to help my family member?

    • Try to keep a daily routine for your family member who has Alzheimer's disease.

    • Avoid loud noises and over stimulation.

    • A pleasant environment with familiar faces and mementos helps soothe fear and anxiety. Have a realistic expectation of what your family member can do. Expecting too much can make you both feel frustrated and upset. Let your family member help with simple, enjoyable tasks, such as preparing meals, gardening, doing crafts and sorting photos.

    • Most of all, be positive. Frequent praise for your family member will help him or her feel better--and it will help you as well.

    • As the caregiver of a person who has Alzheimer's disease, you must also take care of yourself. If you become too tired and frustrated, you will be less able to help your family member.

  • Respite care (short-term care that is given to the patient who has Alzheimer's disease in order to provide relief for the caregiver).

The above opinionated views and information serves to educated and informed consumer .  The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. .It should not replaced professional advise and consultation.  A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions 

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