Overview of Depression

Everyone has times of feeling down or blue and usually these feelings pass quickly. However, in some people, the feelings are more severe and persistent. When a person experiences a low mood continually for more than two weeks, they may be suffering from clinical depression.

Signs and symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Agitation
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Complaints of vague pains or illness
  • Hopeless and helpless feelings
  • Impaired ability to think clearly
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Low self-worth
  • Sadness, irritability, and anxiety
  • Thoughts of suicide and death
  • Unusual fatigue

Depression affects a significant percentage of people at some point during their lives. For example, up to 25 percent of the elderly may suffer from depression. There may be a predisposition towards depressive disorders, although it is unclear to what extent genetic factors play a role.

Depression is treated with various therapies. Psychotherapy and drug therapy are the most typical treatments and may be administered on an outpatient or inpatient basis, depending on the severity of the illness. While rarely used for decades, electroconvulsive or "shock" therapy is being used again in more severe cases.

It may be difficult for those who are depressed to discuss their feelings with friends, family, and physicians. Many people, overwhelmed by their feelings, resist seeking treatment. It is important to remember that depression, like any disease, is not a sign of weakness. It is important for friends and family members to discuss their concerns and encourage a person who is suffering from depression to seek treatment.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015