Depression is a common illness that can affect anyone. About one in 20 Americans — more than 11 million people — suffers from depression every year.

The condition is found twice as often in women as in men.

What Is Depression?
Depression is a medical disorder. It is more than feeling sad for a short time or feeling grief after a loss. Depression disrupts your daily life. It affects your thoughts, feelings, behavior and physical health. It is not a weakness or a fault.
Depression has many causes. A family history of depression may mean that you are more likely to have this disorder. Other illnesses may trigger it. About 10 percent to 15 percent of all cases of depression are triggered by other medical conditions. The use of drugs or alcohol or a history of abuse also can cause depression.

In some people, depression can occur even though life is going well.
Depression also can get worse around the time of certain reproductive events, such as menstruation, pregnancy, loss of a baby, birth of a baby (postpartum depression), infertility and menopause.

Symptoms of depression are shown in the box. You may have other physical or mental symptoms of depression as well. These may include:

  1. Headaches or other aches and pains
  2. Digestive problems
  3. Sexual problems
  4. Hopeless and negative feelings
  5. Worry or fear

An episode lasts at least two weeks and often longer.
Depression may be mild, moderate, or severe (major).

Symptoms of Depression

  1. Lack interest in things they used to enjoy
  2. Feel sad, blue or “down in the dumps”
  3. Slow down or act restless and not able to sit still
  4. Feel worthless or guilty
  5. Have a change in appetite or lose or gain weight
  6. Have thoughts of death or suicide or try to commit suicide
  7. Have problems concentrating, thinking, remembering or making decisions
  8. Sleep too much or are not able to fall asleep or to stay asleep
  9. Lack energy and feel tired all the time

The diagnosis of depression is based on the types of symptoms, how often they occur and how severe they are.

You and your doctor should work as a team to find the best treatment for you. Treatment may include antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or both.

Medications (antidepressants) often are used to treat major depression. These medications also may be useful for mild to moderate depression. Antidepressants relieve symptoms in more than half the people who take them. They work by changing the balance of chemicals in the brain.

In psychotherapy, a therapist works with you to help you overcome your depression. Psychotherapy alone helps about half the people with mild to moderate depression. You can work with your doctor to find a therapist.

Psychotherapy Plus Antidepressants
Psychotherapy plus medication relieves the symptoms of depression in most patients. It may take a couple of months for the treatment to work.

Light Therapy
Some people have mild or moderate seasonal depression (depression that comes during seasons with shorter days). This is known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD. Light therapy may help some people who have this disorder.

Hospital Treatment
Most people who have depression are treated with outpatient visits to their doctors or therapists. People who do not get better or who are at risk of suicide may need to stay in the hospital for a few days or longer.

Depression is a common medical problem. It affects many people and, in most cases, can be treated with success.

This excerpt from ACOG’s Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

To ensure the information is current and accurate, ACOG titles are reviewed every 18 months

Copyright © November 2007 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists