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    Albert H. Smith, PH.D., CEAP

  Depressed Woman
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Millions of people in the United States suffer from depression. About twice as many women as men suffer from this medical condition. Major depression is a whole-body illness that affects a person's body, feelings, thoughts, and behavior.
Everyone experiences bouts of the blues or periods of sadness now and then. However, if these feelings last more than a couple of weeks or interfere with daily life, a person may be suffering from clinical depression.
Depression involves a set of symptoms that can last for months and sometimes years. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with depression cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better.


The causes of depression are not always known. Research shows the tendency to develop depression may be inherited and that an uneven balance of naturally occurring mood-influencing chemicals in the brain can play a role. People who have a poor self-image, who view themselves negatively, or who are easily overwhelmed by life challenges may be more likely than others to experience depression. A serious loss, chronic illness, difficult relationship, or unwelcome change can trigger depression.


The two major symptoms of depression include a depressed mood and an inability to enjoy life. Depression may also include:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances (sleeping too much or difficulty sleeping)
  • Change in appetite (eating too much or too little, sometimes weight gain or weight loss)
  • Poor concentration
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • General irritability
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempt
  • Vague physical aches and pains, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Excessive crying


Treatment for depression can include counseling, medications, or both. If you take medication, you should begin to feel better within 4 to 6 weeks. Counseling can give you support and strategies for coping and learning new ways to think about situations in your life. With the treatment of depression, recovery is the rule -- not the exception.

  • Share your treatment plan with people close to you. Talk to friends and relatives and explain what you are going through.
  • Take medications exactly the way they are prescribed. You may be tempted to stop taking your medications too soon. However, it is important to keep taking them until your doctor says to stop, even if you begin feeling better. Keep in mind that it may take 2 to 4 weeks to see a noticeable change.
  • Report any unusual medication side effects to your doctor, especially if the side effects interfere with your ability to function.
  • Keep all follow-up appointments you have with your doctor or therapist. Do not miss an appointment, even if you are feeling better that day.
  • Schedule pleasant activities into your day. People tend to feel better when they are doing activities they enjoy.

Self-Care Steps for Depression

  • Set realistic goals for yourself, and avoid taking on a great deal of responsibility.
  • Divide your workload. Break large tasks into small ones, set priorities, and don't be hard on yourself if you are unable to get everything finished.
  • Do activities that make you feel better, such as exercising moderately, going to a movie, or attending social events?
  • Do not expect to "snap out" of your depression. Instead, help yourself as much as you can and do not blame yourself for not being up to par.
  • Contact your doctor if your symptoms aren't improving. Most people begin feeling better within a couple of weeks

What's the difference between a bad case of the blues and the painful mental disorder known as depression? According to the experts, impaired functioning is usually a clear-cut indication of a major depression.

Here's a quick checklist of depression symptoms. If the list sounds familiar, you may want to see a Psychologist.

  • Depressive Mood: Do you suffer from feelings of gloom, helplessness or pessimism for days at a time?
  • Sleep Disturbance: Do you have trouble falling asleep at night or trouble staying asleep – waking up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning? Are you sleeping too much?
  • Chronically fatigued: Do you frequently feel tired or lack energy?
  • Isolation: Have you stopped meeting friends for lunch?  Increasing isolation and diminished interest or pleasure in activities are a major signs of depression.
  • Appetite Disturbance: Are you eating far less than usual -- or far more? Severe and continuing appetite disturbance is often an indication of depression.
  • Inability to Concentrate: If you can't seem to focus on even routine tasks, it's probably time to get some help.
  • Dependence on Mood-Altering Substances: If you depend on alcohol or other drugs to make it through the day, you may be suffering from depression. Often the substance abuse causes symptoms that mimic the appearance of clinical depression, but are in fact due wholly to the drug use.
  • Feeling a sense of inappropriate guilt or worthlessness.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation/attempt.