Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date.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. 2008;77(6):795-796

See related article on adult depression.

What is depression?

Depression is a serious illness that affects your mood. Most people with depression feel sad or empty. It is probably caused by changes in the chemicals the brain uses to send messages from one nerve cell to another.

Who gets it?

Depression is common. Anyone of any age, sex, or race can get it. As many as 10 to 14 percent of patients who go to see their doctor have depression. Some people get it when stressful life events happen or because of a medical illness. Sometimes depression happens even when things seem to be “going right.” Many people get genes from their parents that make them more likely to become depressed.

How do I know if I have it?

If you have depression, you may feel guilty or worthless. You may feel like crying a lot for no reason and have problems sleeping. You may feel like you are always slowed down or tired, but you may also feel restless. It may be hard for you to focus on what you are doing a lot of the time. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these problems. You may have depression if these feelings have lasted for two weeks or longer.

Some people with depression may have thoughts about hurting themselves or others, and they may even think about killing themselves. If you have these kinds of thoughts, call your doctor right away or tell a friend or family member. You can also call a hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

How is it treated?

Depression can be treated with medicine, talk therapy, or both. You and your doctor should choose a treatment plan that works best for you.

Many medicines can treat depression. The most common ones belong to the “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor” (SSRI) family. Another type is a tricyclic antidepressant (TCA). Your doctor may start you on SSRIs because they are safer and have fewer side effects.

The medicines may take one to four weeks to start working, but sometimes it can take longer. It is important to visit your doctor during this time so that your doctor can make sure your treatment is working and not causing a lot of side effects.

What are some of the side effects?

Some side effects of SSRIs may be:

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Upset stomach

  • Diarrhea

  • Sexual problems

Some side effects of TCAs may be:

  • Dry mouth

  • Weight gain

  • Sleepiness

  • Constipation

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

National Institute of Mental Health

Mental Health America

National Alliance on Mental Illness

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