Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2001;64(4):651-652

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder. The symptoms of depression include these:

  • Feeling depressed or sad, or crying often.

  • Losing interest in activities that used to be fun.

  • Changes in appetite and weight.

  • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping.

  • Feeling agitated, cranky or sluggish.

  • Loss of energy.

  • Feeling very guilty or worthless.

  • Problems concentrating or making decisions.

  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

People who are depressed have five or more of the above symptoms nearly every day for two or more weeks. One of the symptoms must be depressed mood or loss of interest in daily activities.

How will I know if I am depressed?

Most people who are depressed have some or all of the above symptoms. To find out if you are depressed, see your doctor. Your doctor will ask you questions about your mood. He or she may have you fill out a short questionnaire about how you are feeling.

Who gets depressed most often?

About 15 percent of all people have depression at least once in their life. It's not uncommon for people who have just had a heart attack to feel depressed. In fact, more than one half of people who recently had a heart attack reported feeling depressed. People who are most at risk are women, people who have been depressed before and people who feel alone and have little social or emotional support.

How is depression treated?

Depression is treated by a combination of three things. These are changing your thoughts, becoming more active and taking medicines.

  • Changing Thoughts-You might see yourself becoming more depressed when you begin to think negatively. One goal would be to stop these negative thoughts (for example, tell yourself “STOP”). Then replace the negative thinking with more logical or positive thinking. Many people and their families benefit from counseling or “talk therapy.”

  • Becoming More Active-Many times people feel depressed because they're inactive and aren't involved in social and recreational activities. Your mood will likely improve when you begin a hobby or recreational activity. Interacting more with other people and beginning an exercise program will also help improve your mood. Many people who have had a heart attack benefit physically and mentally from involvement in a cardiac rehabilitation program. Talk to your doctor about the kinds of activities and exercise programs that are best suited for you and your health.

  • Medicine-Depression can result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medicines can correct this imbalance. If your doctor prescribes an antidepressant medicine for you, follow your doctor's advice on how to take the medicine. Remember that these medicines might take a few weeks to work, so be patient. Also, be sure to talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescribed medicine or if you have unusual symptoms after taking your medicine.

Does treatment for depression usually work?

Yes. Between 80 and 90 percent of people with depression do well with treatment. Most people have at least some relief from their symptoms.

Where can I get more information about depression?

You can find out more about depression and its treatment at the following Web sites:


    The American Psychological Association has a public access section with information on various mental health issues, including depression.


    The National Mental Health Association Web site has information on depression, screening for this disorder, education about treatment and resources. This site has a Spanish-language option.


    The National Institute of Mental Health Web site has information on various aspects of depression, including types, causes and where to get help. This site also provides a Spanish-language option.


    The American Psychiatric Association Web site includes a public information area with information on mental health issues.

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