Randall Eiger LCSW
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Depression FAQ


Q:  What is depression?
A: Depression is a sustained period of low mood (usually two weeks or more) that interferes with day-to-day activities and the enjoyment of life.
Q:  What do you mean by "low mood"?
A: The low mood that comes with depression is characterized by sadness and loss of pleasure in activities that one normally enjoys. Alternatively, it can be a feeling of emotional deadness — flat, empty and indifferent. Unreasonable feelings of guilt or low self-esteem are often part of a depressed mood. So is hopelessness.
Q:  Doesn't everybody get sad sometimes?
A: Absolutely. Low moods come and go in the normal course of life. Depression only becomes an issue when it is prolonged, and serious enough to interfere with daily activities, relationships, and one's goals and plans for the future.
Q:  How does depression affect a person's mental functioning?
A: Depressed people often have trouble concentrating or remembering things. Sometimes they are indecisive — one patient described taking five minutes to decide whether to cross the street — or they are easily confused. It is very common for depressed people to feel hopeless or to "beat up on themselves" by thinking negative thoughts about themselves. Thoughts of suicide are also common.
Q:  How does depression affect people physically?
A: Depressed people often lose their interest in food and frequently lose weight. Less often, depression causes people to indulge in comfort eating and they gain weight. A change in sleep patterns often accompanies depression. People have trouble getting a good night's sleep, or alternatively, they sleep much more than usual and have trouble getting out of bed. Other physical symptoms may include decreased energy, tiredness, fatigue and lack of interest in sex.
Q:  How does depression affect people's behavior?
A: People who are depressed are often listless and withdrawn. They may withdraw from their normal social activities and spend an increasing amount of time alone. They may avoid leaving the house. Their speech can be flat and uncommunicative. Depressed people may be exhausted and feel like they're "dragging themselves around." Sometimes they use excessive amounts of alcohol, caffeine or other drugs in an attempt to make themselves feel better.
Q:  When should a person seek treatment for depression?
A: People should seek treatment when the depression has been going on for an extended period of time (two weeks or more) and is interfering with their normal day-to-day functioning. People who are actively planning to commit suicide (as opposed to simply having thoughts about suicide) should seek treatment immediately from a mental health professional or the emergency room of their local hospital.
Q:  What is the treatment for depression?
A: Depression is usually treated with therapy, medication or some combination of the two. Mild depression may lift on its own or be successfully treated with psychotherapy. Serious, prolonged depression is usually most effectively treated with a combination of medication and therapy.
Q:  If I feel depressed, what can I do to help myself?

There are many ways to take care of yourself when you're feeling mildly depressed. A good rule of thumb is to try to do the things you don't feel like doing. Here are some tips:

  • Get some aerobic exercise. If you are in normal health, run, ride a bike, or walk briskly for about 20 minutes each day. Exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural tranquilizers.
  • Spend time with people you like and respect. Spend less time alone or with people who bore or irritate you.
  • Make a regular sleep schedule and stick with it. Go to bed at the same time each night. Get up at the same time each morning, even if you haven't slept well during the night. If you take naps, don't nap longer than 20 minutes.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Don't overeat or undereat. Pick healthy foods that you enjoy.
  • See your doctor for a checkup. There are a number of physical ailments that can cause depression. A checkup can screen you for them.
  • Go to the movies. Go out to the movies with a friend. It's better to go to the movies than to stay home alone watching TV.
  • Spend some time in nature. Go for hikes in the country or in your local park.
  • Watch children playing. If you're not much around children, a trip to the playground can work wonders.
  • Postpone as many decisions as possible. Try not to make important decisions when you're depressed.
  • Don't use alcohol. Drinking may make you feel better for a few hours. In the long run it makes things much worse. Alcohol is a depressant.
  • Take care of yourself. Though your energy may be limited, do the best you can to take care of yourself. Shower and brush your teeth, even if you don't feel like it. Try to keep the house reasonably clean. Pay attention to your clothes and grooming.
Once again, if the depression is serious or prolonged, please contact a mental health professional.


Helpful Links:

National Institute of Mental Health - Depression