Thanks for writing to JA.
Depression (or Major Depression, as it is listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)) is a Mood Disorder characterized by feelings of sadness or emotional "disconnection," disturbances of sleeping/eating, lethargy, and poor mood. It is considered a "biopsychosocial" disorder - meaning that it has medical/physiological components, psychological components, and social components. These components are noted to be causal in both directions - meaning the components can cause depression to develop - and the depression can cause disturbances in those areas of functioning.
Depression is considered the "common cold" of the mental health field. It is the most commonly diagnosed disorder among mental health professionals, and one of the most common among general practitioners as well. It is also one of the most treatable.
Research consistently demonstrates that the most effective form of treatment for depression is a combination of medication (often an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor - at least as the first line of defense)) and psychotherapy (specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)). While both are effective in isolation, you get the "biggest bang for your buck" with both. Be warned that the treatment should actually be CBT, not simply traditional "talk therapy." Traditional "talk therapy" is useful for exploring yourself and your own inner workings - but has been demonstrated to actually exacerbate symptoms of depression among some people. CBT is targetted and focused on changing thinking and behavior related to depression.
If you (or someone you know) is wondering if you might have depression, your first task will be to see your general practitioner (regular doctor). S/he may feel comfortable diagnosing you, or you may be referred to a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP) such as a Psychiatrist or Psychologist for further diagnosis. It is important to rule out other factors (such as anxiety, significant psychosocial stress, or other medical conditions) which may LOOK like depression - but isn't.
Finally, you should know that depression is one of the most treatable and "recoverable" disorders in the DSM. Many people avoid getting treatment due to embarrassment, feelings that "I should be able to buck up," or lack of knowledge/initiative. You've taken the first step to learn more about the disorder... now I encourage you to speak with your doctor to learn more about it in your particular case. In the event that you feel you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or someone else, I *urge* you to get to an emergency room immediately.
Thanks. I hope this brief response was helpful. Please remember that there is hope! I encourage you to give your doctor a call! Best of luck to you.
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