About Your Diagnosis
Depression is a very common psychiatric complaint affecting at one time
or another about 80% of individuals. In the medical sense, depression
is not the same thing as being temporarily sad when bad things happen.
This is normal. However, if sadness lasts for a matter of days or weeks,
or prevents you from doing things such as working or being involved
with your family, or involves any thoughts of hurting or killing yourself,
then psychiatric evaluation for depression is indicated.
Depression is more common in women than in men. It can occur at any
age, either after something happens in an individual's life or for no
Living With Your Diagnosis
One of the features of depression is trouble sleeping. This can be difficulty
falling asleep, but more likely it is awakening early in the morning
for no reason. Patients who are depressed often are wide awake at three
or four in the morning, and are unable to fall asleep again. Less commonly,
depression can involve too much sleep, where the individual might sleep
most of the day. In addition to sleep problems, depression also involves
changes in appetite. Some individuals do not eat when they are depressed
and may lose a lot of weight. Others eat more when they are depressed.
Other features of depression include losing interest in things that
you once liked to do; being unable to concentrate on reading or watching
television because your mind is wandering to other topics; feeling sad;
having crying spells, often times for no reason; feeling badly about
yourself, or feeling like your future is not going to be any better;
being very agitated or restless, or moving and speaking very slowly;
and losing interest in sexual activity.
In severe forms, depression involves suicidal thoughtsthat is,
wanting to kill yourselfor homicidal thoughtswanting to
kill someone else. Or it may involve thinking about death all the time,
dreaming about death, or wishing you were dead without actually planning
to take your own life. Occasionally depression also involves psychotic
features such as hearing voices, seeing things that aren't there, including
individuals who may have previously died, and feeling that individuals
are following you or talking about you behind your back (paranoia).
Depression can also be caused by certain drugs such as alcohol or "downers,"
such as Librium, Valium, Ativan, barbiturates, and similar drugs. There
are also other medications that can cause depression. The list of these
medications is very long, so you should always check with your doctor
to see whether any medication you may be taking has been associated
There are also some medical conditions, such as thyroid disease and
stroke, that are frequently associated with depression.
There are no specific laboratory or x-ray tests to diagnose depression.
It is diagnosed on the basis of some of the symptoms mentioned earlier.
Depression is treatable; therefore it is important to alert your family
or your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms of depression.
The treatment of depression usually involves using medications and talking
to a therapist or a psychiatrist, usually at least once a week. The
medications that are used to treat depression are called antidepressants,
and there are many of them. Some of the more commonly used drugs are
Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Elavil, Effexor, Sinequan, and Wellbutrin. Your
doctor will have chosen an antidepressant that is designed to treat
whatever particular symptoms of depression you may have. Some of these
drugs will increase your sleep and appetite, but you should keep in
mind that it takes about 23 weeks before you will begin feeling
the effects of these drugs on depression. So, do not expect relief from
the depression right away when starting antidepressant medication.
There are some side effects to the treatment of depression, and they
depend on the drug that is used. However, some of the more common side
effects include weight gain, sexual problems, oversedation, and nausea
and diarrhea. If you have any side effects, let your doctor know because
you may be able to take a different drug.
* Decrease your exposure to stress.
* Make sure your diet is healthy.
* Exercise regularly.
* Don't use alcohol or drugs, because these will increase your depression
or interfere with some of the medications that are being used to treat
* Don't take any prescription or over-the-counter medication without
first discussing it with the doctor who prescribed your medication for
When to Call Your Doctor
* If your depression symptoms get worse.
* If you have any side effects from the medication you are taking.
* Call immediately if you have any suicidal thoughts or thoughts about
killing or hurting someone else.
* Call immediately if you have any psychotic features, such as hearing
voices or seeing things that are not there, or feeling paranoid.
* If depression related to grief involves suicidal thoughts. Depression
can normally occur as part of griefthat is, after the death of
a loved one. This depression related to grief usually gets somewhat
better as time passes.
For More Information
Contact your family doctor, your local mental health center, your local
crisis center hot line, or check out the following Web site:
Clinical Depression Screening Test