Depression is a serious mental health condition that causes symptoms such as sadness and lethargy. However, with the right diagnosis and treatment, people living with depression can manage their condition.

It is natural to feel down or unmotivated at times while moving through life’s ups and downs. But if these symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, they may be signs of clinical depression.

Research shows that depression affects about 1 in 15 adults each year and that almost 17% of people will experience depression during their lifetime. However, suitable treatments can be effective against the condition.

Certain healthcare professionals can diagnose and treat depression.

This article discusses what depression is, how professionals diagnose it, what diagnosis involves, and how treatment may help.

To help support your mental well-being and that of your loved ones, visit our dedicated mental health hub for more research-backed information and resources.

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Individuals with depression may experience ongoing feelings of sadness or despair. The condition can make it difficult for a person to go about their daily life. It may also make it hard to feel pleasure while doing activities that used to be enjoyable.

Depression is a common mental health condition. It can affect people of all ages and from all different backgrounds.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of depression vary between individuals. Some of the more common symptoms of this condition may include:

The symptoms above may be a sign of major depressive disorder, the most common type of depression. People with major depressive disorder experience depressive symptoms for at least 2 weeks. The symptoms of their condition typically interfere with work, school, or social activities.

Another less common type of depression, persistent depressive disorder, involves symptoms that last for at least 2 years.

In some cases, the symptoms of depression may occur cyclically. Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that occurs during a certain season, most often winter.

On the other hand, premenstrual dysphoric disorder causes depressive symptoms around the timing of a person’s menstrual cycle.

Learn more about how depression affects the body.

Causes and risk factors

Although there is no single cause for depression, some risk factors may include:

  • genetics, or a family history of depression
  • experiencing trauma, particularly in early life
  • medical conditions such as chronic pain
  • going through unexpected life changes such as divorce or financial loss
  • alcohol or drug misuse

One study found that the greatest risk factor for depression was traumatic events in early childhood. Trauma in early childhood causes high levels of stress, which can affect the developing brain. Chronic stress from a young age may increase the risk of depression in adolescence and adulthood.

Likewise, trauma is a risk factor for postpartum depression. This form of depression occurs following childbirth and affects up to 19% of people who give birth.

Individuals who believe they may be experiencing depression should speak with a healthcare professional for further guidance and support.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Click here for more links and local resources.

A variety of medical professionals can diagnose depression. People experiencing depression may first consult with a doctor.

A doctor may diagnose depression themselves or provide a referral to another practitioner, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

When consulting a doctor to discuss depression, it is helpful to prepare some information ahead of time. This information may include:

  • any family history of mental health conditions
  • a list of current medications
  • questions or concerns to discuss with a doctor

It can be difficult to discuss depression, but it is important to communicate all symptoms openly during a doctor’s visit. To make an accurate diagnosis, a medical professional needs a clear picture of an individual’s symptoms.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers an anonymous treatment services locator on its website. Those seeking mental health services may also find this a useful place to start.

The diagnostic process may vary between providers. However, most mental health professionals today use theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR). The DSM-5-TR contains the latest criteria for over 70 mental health conditions.

To qualify for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder according to the DSM-5-TR, an individual must experience symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks. These symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • a depressed mood most of the time
  • difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • feeling tired most days
  • a loss of pleasure in activities
  • ongoing thoughts of death or suicide
  • unexpected weight loss or weight gain
  • decreased or increased appetite nearly every day
  • feeling excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • concentration issues

During diagnosis, a healthcare professional may ask questions or conduct an interview. They may also administer a patient health questionnaire to screen patients for depression before proceeding with diagnostic tests.

One of the most common treatments for depression is psychotherapy. A therapist can provide advice and strategies for handling symptoms of depression. They can also help individuals manage negative thinking and develop coping strategies.

In certain cases, a doctor may prescribe antidepressants to treat depression. Some common antidepressants include:

An individual with depression may receive psychotherapy or medication alone. Alternatively, they may receive a combination of these and other treatments.

A person should speak with a doctor to learn more about which treatment may be best for them.

Depression is a common mental health condition that causes a range of symptoms. These may include feelings of sadness, sleep disturbances, or loss of pleasure in daily life.

A healthcare professional may diagnose a person with depression or refer them to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation. Verbal evaluations and questionnaires can help a doctor diagnose depression.

People who receive a depression diagnosis have many treatment options. A person should speak with a healthcare professional to determine which treatment is best for them.