Depression is a common, serious, and yet treatable mental health disorder. Different from sadness or grief, it affects how someone thinks, feels, and behaves. It can impact anyone, at any point in their life.
If someone has experienced some of the following signs nearly every day, for most of the day, for at least two weeks—they may be experiencing depression:
- Feeling sad, empty, anxious, hopeless, or pessimistic.
- Feeling angry, irritable, or frustrated, even over small matters.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
- Fixating on past failures or self-blame.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or activities.
- Sleep disturbances: difficulty going or staying asleep, waking too early, or sleeping too much.
- Low energy—even small tasks feel like they take a lot of effort.
- Appetite changes: increased cravings for food and weight gain, or loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Agitation or restlessness.
- Slowed thoughts, speaking, or body movements.
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things.
- Unexplained physical problems without a clear physical cause that don’t go away with treatment.
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts.
- Younger children may experience any of the above, and possibly clinginess, worry, or refusal to go to school.
- In teens, any of the above symptoms are possible, as well as poor performance or attendance at school, feeling misunderstood or extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, self-harm, or avoidance of social interaction.
Some people with depression experience only a few of these symptoms, while others may experience many of them.
Depression is a real illness. With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression live healthy, fulfilling lives, and almost all are able to find symptom relief. But, like many other disorders, it can return. Because everyone’s experience of depression is unique, there is no “one and done” or “one-size-fits-all” answer. If you, or someone you care about are experiencing symptoms of depression, a first step is to see one’s primary care provider. Self-help and treatment options include:
- Regular exercise—even brief periods of activity can help.
- Quality sleep (not too little or too much).
- A well-balanced diet.
- Break large tasks into smaller steps and do what you can, pausing when needed.
- Hold off on big projects or important decisions until you’re feeling better.
- Spend time with people you care about.
- Avoid alcohol, which can make depression worse.
- Talk with a mental health professional. Sometimes, brief therapy is all a person needs. Other people may continue for a longer time.
- Prescription medicines (antidepressants) can help balance brain chemistry.
This list of treatment options can make it seem that all someone needs to do in order to “get better” is to find the right strategy. It doesn’t always work that way. If you are experiencing depression, remember: it’s not your fault—for having it, if it continues, or if it returns.
While it’s not always easy to love or live with someone that is depressed, there are ways that you can help:
- Be careful how you talk about mental illness. Your attitude and words will make it feel safe or risky for someone to reach out to you.
- Just listen. Unless asked, don’t assume that someone wants you to fix anything or give them advice.
- Don’t judge someone’s feelings or tell them to “get over it.”
- Help them find resources to support their mental health, connect to those resources, and then offer support in sticking with their treatment.
- Offer help with everyday tasks.
- Stay in touch. Depression can make people feel like no one would want to be with them. Your efforts at connection can remind them that they are valued.
- Do something together. Physical and creative activities can help improve mood.
If you, or someone you care about, is in danger of suicide or has made a suicide attempt, please ask for help. In the U.S. and Canada, call 911 for immediate medical assistance. In the U.S., you can now call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, where trained specialists provide suicide and mental health crisis support. As of November 30, 2023, people in Canada will also be able to use 988. Before that date, those in Canada can call 1-833-456-4566. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.