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Neurosciences and Behavioral Health Center

Depression

Depression

Depression is a mental illness marked by feelings of profound sadness and lack of interest in activities. It may cause a wide range of symptoms, both physical and emotional. It can last for weeks, months or years.

Depression may be due to a certain type of brain chemistry. While the exact cause is not clearly established, factors that may play a role in depression include:

  • Having a family history of depression
  • Spouse with depression
  • Previous episode of depression
  • Hormonal changes
  • Chronic illness
  • Other conditions related to mental health such as anxiety, drug abuse, insomnia and personality disorder
  • History of traumatic brain injury
  • History of concussion in teenagers
  • History of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • History of child abuse and neglect or sexual abuse
  • Obesity
  • History of bullying
  • Emotional or social factors, such as:
    • Little or no social support
    • Negative thought patterns and beliefs
    • Low self-esteem
    • Lack of personal control over circumstances
    • Feelings of helplessness

Symptoms of Clinical Depression

Symptoms can change over time and may include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety or emptiness
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless
  • Feeling tired
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Trouble sleeping, waking up too early or oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Thoughts of death or suicide with or without suicide attempts
  • Physical symptoms that defy standard diagnosis and do not respond well to medical treatments

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history, giving special attention to:

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Family members who have or have had depression
  • Sleep patterns
  • Previous episodes of depression

Treatment may involve the use of medication and/or psychotherapy. Severe depression can require hospital care, especially if you’re at risk of hurting yourself or others.

Medication

Antidepressants may be most effective in people with severe depression. Your doctor will work with you to find the medication that benefits you the most with the least side effects.

Therapy

Psychotherapy for depression consists of various types of counseling, including:

Therapy can help you cope with difficulties in relationships, change negative thinking and behavior patterns and resolve difficult feelings.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT uses electric stimulus to help people with severe or life-threatening depression. ECT is an alternative for those who cannot take or do not respond to medication. 

Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)

VNS may treat depression when multiple trials of medication do not work. A pacemaker-like device stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS therapy involves the application of low-frequency magnetic pulses to the brain. The change in electrical field stimulates nerves.

Bright Light Therapy

Bright light therapy involves exposure to high levels of light from a special light box that has a screen on it.

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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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