Depression is a physical, medical illness with a very strong genetic basis.  Depression usually profoundly affects your feelings, moods, productivity and behavior, and can cause physical problems as well.  Depression is a relatively common illness that affects all ages, and can occur once in a lifetime, or be on a chronic basis.

The symptoms in depression vary widely.  There is usually a depressed mood, with feelings of helplessness, sadness, and hopelessness.  Decreased motivation and loss of interest in the usual pleasurable activities often occurs.  There may be sleep disturbances, either sleeping too much, not enough, difficulties falling asleep, or easy awakening during sleep.  Concentration problems are seen, with a difficult time making decisions, often along with agitation, irritability, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness.  There may be no interest in sex, and weight can be increased or decreased due to appetite changes.  A serious side effect of depression is suicidal thoughts, or actually committing suicide.

Some people have a “major depression”, where they ahve at least 2 weeks of serious depression, while others have ongoing mild or moderate chronic depression.  Depression may be worse in certain seasons, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder-depression in winter primarily related to a lack of sunlight.  Stressful life events may trigger depression or it may cycle in and out of people’s lives regardless of stress.  Chronic medical illnesses, sickness in one’s family, financial difficulties, and hormonal changes (particularly with postpartum depression) all may trigger depression.

The two primary treatments are medication and psychotherapy.  Exercise may help.  The combination of meds plus therapy is ideal.

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