Behavioral Health

The information for consumers on this website is solely for educational purposes. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or to diagnose or to treat a mental health problem.


Do you know the difference between the blues and depression? The blues are a normal reaction to unhappy or stressful life events. Depression, on the other hand, is a serious, debilitating condition that may involve your body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself and others, and the way you think about things. Depression is not unusual or rare illness. In fact, some studies estimate that depression is very common. It affects one in eight individuals in a lifetime and about 11 million Americans each year. This disorder is not a sign of personal weakness, or condition that can be wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last weeks, months, or years, and could even lead person to suicide.

Types of Depression

There are three of the most prevalent types of depressive disorders. However, within these types, there are variations in the number of symptoms, their severity, and persistence. Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, sleep, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. These disabling episodes of depression can occur once, twice, or several times in a lifetime.

Dysthamia, a less sever type of depression, involves long-term, chronic symptoms that do not disable, but keep you from fully functioning or from feeling real good. Sometimes people with dysthamia also experience major depressive episodes.

Bipolar disorder, formerly called mania-depressive illness, is not as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders. Bipolar disorder involves cycles of depression and elation or mania. Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but most often they are gradual. When in the depressed cycle, you can have any and all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder. When in the manic cycle, any and all manic symptoms may be experienced. Mania often affects thinking, judgement, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment. Bipolar disorder is often a chronic recurring condition.



Several factors may play a role in the onset of depression. These include family history, life events, and chemical changes in body systems. In many cases, clinical depression appears to be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain. The symptoms of depression may be very different from person to person. A combination of certain symptoms and signs that last two weeks or longer helps your doctor to make the diagnosis. You do not have to have all of these symptoms, or even most of them, to be diagnosed with depression. These symptoms are as following:

  • Feelings of sadness or unusual irritability that don't go away
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your job, family life, hobbies or sex;
  • Frequent or unexplainable crying spells
  • Significant weight loss or gain; appetite increase or decrease
  • Sleep disturbance (problems falling asleep, staying asleep; waking up too early, or oversleeping
  • Feelings of guilt, lack of self-worth, helplessness, or an attitude of indifference
  • A downhearted period that gets worse and just won1t go away
  • Difficulty in concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Tiredness or loss of energy
  • Physical pains that are hard to pin down such as back pain, stomachache, headache
  • Feeling of being restless or slowed down
  • Recurrent thought about life not being worthwhile, suicide, or death
  • Excessive high mood
  • Irritability
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased energy and activity
  • Increased talking, moving, and sexual activity
  • Racing thoughts
  • Lack of ability to make good decisions
  • Grandiose notions
  • Lack of concentration
In the workplace, depression can be often recognized as:
  • Decreased level of productivity
  • Problem with morale
  • Lack of cooperation
  • Increased number of accidents, problems with safety
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Frequent complaints of being tired all the time
  • Complaints of unexplained aches and pains
  • Increased alcohol and drug use and abuse

If you checked two or more boxes, and if symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it can be indication of depressive illness, and a warning to consult your doctor. A good diagnosis may involve a complete physical checkup, review of family history of health problems, and psychological evaluation. Certain medications as well as some medical conditions can cause symptoms of depression, and the physician should rule out these possibilities through examination, interview, and lab tests if necessary.



It is important to remember that depression is not something you can conquer with willpower, or by just "pulling yourself together." Once identified, depression can almost always be treated successfully. There are a variety of antidepressant medications and psychotherapies that can be used to treat depressive disorders. Some patients do well with psychotherapy alone, others with antidepressants alone. Many patients do best with combination treatment of psychotherapy and medication. Medication can help to gain relatively quick symptom relief and psychotherapy to learn more effective ways to deal with life1s problems. Regardless of the treatment your doctor selects, it is important to note that most people can be successfully treated for depression, and on an outpatient basis.

Which treatments are the best for you will depend on your symptoms, their severity, and your medical history. In choosing your treatment, your doctor will take all of those factors into consideration. Your doctor may also advise you to involve a family member or close friend in your treatment since relatives and friends may notice signs of improvement or worsening before you do. Their observations can help you and your doctor keep track of your progress. Appropriate treatment can help most people who suffer from depression. By seeking treatment, you are on the road to recovery.


Additional Help

Depressive illnesses can deplete person's energy, and makes a person feel tired, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Therefore, seriously depressed people may need encouragement and help from family and friends to seek treatment, and to be even taken for treatment.

For a free copy of the U.S. Public Health Service's booklet "Depression Is a Treatable Illness", or the two-volume "Depression in Primary Care" a quick reference guide for patient's call (800) 358-9295 or send a postcard to:

Depression Guide (MM)
PO Box 8547
Silver Spring, MD 20907.

To request the following titles from AARP (allow four to six weeks for delivery), address a postcard to the title(s) and number(s) to:

Dept 101
601 Eats Street NW
Washington, DC 20049

  • If You're Over 65 and Feeling Depressed (D14862)
  • Depression in Later Life (D14220)
  • Stress in Later Life (D14219)

For recorded information about the symptoms and treatment of depression, how to obtain an information packet with a list of support groups in your area call the following numbers:

  • 800-239-1263 - The National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc (NAFDI)
  • 800-826-3632 - The National Depressive and manic-depressive Association, 730 North Franklin Street, Suite 501 Chicago, IL 60610