Depression is a state of sadness and despair. Some depression is normal and is part of almost every person's life. A lot of things can lead to depression:

  • Life changes such as the birth of a baby, divorce, retirement, loss of a job or death of a loved one
  • Worrying about financial problems
  • Chronic or acute medical conditions
  • Abuse of alcohol, drugs and some medications
  • A side effect of medicines, such as some that treat high blood pressure
  • Holiday 'blues'

Depression can, however, be a disease in and of itself. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Ongoing feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities that bring pleasure, including sex
  • Sleeping too much or too little; waking up too early
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of energy or enthusiasm
  • Hard time concentrating or making decisions
  • Anger
  • Physical symptoms, such as persistent headaches or digestive problems that do not respond to treatment
  • Crying or tearfulness
  • Poor appetite with weight loss, or overeating and weight gain

Whatever the cause, depression can be treated. Treatment includes medication, psychotherapy and other therapies specific to the cause of the depression. For example, exposure to bright light (similar to sunlight) for depression that results from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Self-Help Tips

To overcome mild, situational depression:

  • Be with positive people; they'll lift your morale
  • Do something to help someone else; this will focus your attention away from yourself
  • Get some physical exercise every day even if it's just taking the dog for a walk; if you can, bike, play tennis, chop firewood or do some other exercise that will give you a good workout
  • Do something different; walk or drive to a new place; try a new restaurant
  • Take a vacation doing something you enjoy
  • Tackle a new project; it doesn't have to be difficult, but something you enjoy; do something that allows you to express yourself such as writing or painting
  • Relax; listen to soft music, read a good book, take a warm bath or shower, practice relaxation exercises
  • Talk to a friend, relative, co-worker or anyone who will let you express the tensions and frustrations you are feeling
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol; drinking too much alcohol and the use of drugs can cause or worsen depression

What You Can Do for a Friend or Relative

A person can gradually slip into depression without knowing it. Outside help often is needed to see it. The depressed person needs and wants help from loved ones, even though his or her behavior may say, "Don't help me." For example, the depressed person may withdraw from you; or become irritable and short-tempered, and say things that may hurt you. Here's how you can help:

  • The most important thing you can do is get your friend or relative to seek professional treatment; the illness is severe and will not go away on its own; give positive feedback to the depressed person about the need to seek help
  • Help them get treatment, perhaps make the initial appointment with a professional or take your friend or relative to the appointment
  • Be observant; do not ignore suicide references; these should be reported to the person's therapist or physician immediately
  • Know the medication your friend or relative is taking: you may need to be aware of the types of medication the person needs to take and when they should take it; you also should alert the physician about any side effects you notice when your friend or relative takes his or her medication
  • Be supportive: depression is no different from any other physical illness . . . it requires the patience, understanding, love and encouragement of the person's loved ones and friends
  • Talk to them: encourage the depressed person to talk about their feelings; point out their successes and attributes, when they relate feelings of worthlessness, helplessness and pessimism about the future; helping them see that they have succeeded at something or are 'worthwhile' in other matters can help give them the confidence they need to continue with treatment
  • Encourage the person to go out and do things with you or with others: see a movie or attend a social event, do things the depressed person enjoyed in the past
  • Seek support from organizations and self-help groups that deal with depression

Books to Read

Dare to Live: A Guide to the Understanding and Prevention of Teenage Suicide and Depression. Michael Miller with Debra Whalley Kidney. Beyond Words Publications. Hillsboro, Oregon. 1989.

The Depression Workbook. Mary Ellen Copeland, MS. New Harbinger Publications Inc. Oakland, California. 1992.

Getting Up When You're Feeling Down. Harriet B. Braiker. G.P. Putnam's Sons. New York, New York. 1988.

Living Without Depression & Manic Depression. Mary Ellen Copeland, MS. New Harbinger Publications Inc. Oakland, California. 1994.

101 Ways to Kick Depression. James R. McDonald. Wind River Institute Press. Broomfield, Colorado. 1989.

Over-Coming Depression. D. Papolos. Harper Perennial. New York, New York. 1992.