Patient Education Materials


Depression is an illness. It is not the same as a sad or blue mood. Symptoms of depression can last weeks, months, or even years. Treatment helps people recover from depression and can help prevent depressive symptoms from returning.

How do I know if I’m depressed?

People who are depressed usually have profound sadness and/or loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. Symptoms of depression vary greatly from person to person. Some people have only a few symptoms, while others have many. Symptoms may vary over time.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, waking up too early, or over sleeping
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you have several of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks, you should check with a doctor to find out if it is depression. If you have had thoughts of suicide, contact someone for help immediately.

How is depression diagnosed?

There is no blood test for depression. The doctor or trained mental health professional makes the diagnosis by reviewing your personal and health history and checking your symptoms. Other questions that you may be asked include:

  • Do you use alcohol or drugs?
  • Do you have thoughts of death or suicide?
  • Have any family members had depression?

A physical exam and other tests may be ordered to check into any other causes of your symptoms.

What causes depression?

The exact cause of depression is not known. In most people, it probably results from some combination of inherited factors, previous life experiences, general health, and the environment.

What increases your risk of getting depression?

If you have any of the risk factors below, your risk for depression may be increased. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of having depression.

Risk factors for depression:

  • Past depressive episodes
  • Family members with depression or bipolar disorder
  • Stressful life events or environment
  • Chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Imbalances in hormones
  • Few close relationships or friends
  • Lack of personal control over important things in your life

How is depression treated?

Effective treatments include antidepressant medicine, counseling (called “psychotherapy”), or both. Both medicine and psychotherapy can relieve symptoms of depression. Psychotherapy also helps you learn ways of coping with problems related to depression.

When people are being treated for depression, they may see a doctor, a psychotherapist, or both. If you are seeing a doctor and a psychotherapist, they will work together to decide what type of treatment will be most helpful to you. Antidepressant medicine may take 2 to 3 weeks to start to work. Full recovery may take 3 months. You should talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about medicines.

What can I do to prevent or recover from depression?

Some people have only 1 episode of depression in their lifetime. Other people have several episodes of depression and must continue to receive treatment to prevent depressive symptoms from returning.

Here are some ways to prevent depression:

  • Be aware of your risk of depression.
  • Keep your appointments and take all medicines as directed.
  • Try to maintain supportive social relationships.
  • Learn to recognize and manage stress.
  • Include enough time for sleep, exercise, and recreation in your schedule.