Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with depression isn’t likely to forget what it feels like. It feels horrible, and it can wreak havoc on your life. The symptoms can seem contradictory: it may make you want to stay in bed and sleep the day away—or it may plague you with chronic insomnia. It can take away your appetite, or it can cause you to overeat, even if the food you’re consuming gives you no pleasure. If you’re prone towards one of these tendencies or another, it may exaggerate your typical behavior.

There are some symptoms of depression that are more universal: a feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or simply lack of interest in one’s surroundings. Feelings of alienation from friends, family, and coworkers. Loneliness. People suffering from depression often have a hard time motivating themselves to do even simple projects. They frequently have low energy, and may also have a difficult time remembering things. Other signs of depression include a generally pessimistic outlook on life, moodiness, and self-doubt. The most dangerous warning sign of depression is suicidal thinking.

Depression is a very serious illness and should be treated with as much urgency as any other potentially life-threatening disease. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you or anyone you care about suffer from any of the symptoms described above, please seek help from a qualified mental health specialist immediately.

Some people hold the unfortunate misconception that depression is something you can just snap out of if you try hard enough: that it’s “all in your head.” And while it’s true that there is a psychological component to depression—it is, in some ways, “in your head”—it also affects the rest of your body in serious ways. Chronic depression can increase your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other very dangerous conditions. It’s not something you should try to tackle on your own.

There are other ways in which depression is similar to other serious illnesses. For one thing, it’s not always as easy to diagnose as you might think. Depression may emerge during or after difficult periods in our lives: the death of a loved one or a pet, the end of a relationship, losing a job, experiencing financial difficulties. Suffering from what appears to be a purely physical malady can also have psychological ramifications. After experiences like these, it’s understandable that people feel sad, and sometimes this sadness deepens into depression.

But other times, depression seems almost to come out of nowhere. Things at work and at home could be okay, but for whatever reason, you just feel blue. Things in your life could even be wonderful—you’ve just been promoted at work, or you’re about to get married—and instead of jumping for joy, you feel down in the dumps. Even having a baby can trigger very severe depressive episodes, known as post-partum depression.

Luckily, depression no longer carries the same social stigma that it did 40 or 50 or even ten years ago. But some people found ways to deal with their depression even before it became easier to seek mental health treatment. They sought out people to talk to—friends or neighbors, pastors or psychiatrists. They exercised. They spent time outside in the sun. And they sometimes took cod liver oil—a surprisingly effective treatment for depression, as it turns out.

Two very common perceptions by people suffering from depression are that they are alone—they’re the only ones on earth who feel the way that they do—and that their depressive feelings will never go away. Both of these perceptions are false. If you’re feeling depressed, you’re far from alone. And there are many very effective forms of treatment available for depression.

Approximately 15 to 20 million Americans experience depression each year. Over a lifetime, one in five women are likely to suffer an episode of depression.

Signs of Depression

  • Feeling sad or emotionally numb for more than a few weeks
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Feelings of helplessness or worthlessness
  • Disordered sleeping: insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Low energy, fatigue
  • Loss of appetite or excessive, joyless eating
  • Disinterest in sex
  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Trouble remembering things or concentrating
  • Indecisiveness
  • Physical ailments that don’t respond well to treatment
  • Suicidal ideation, thoughts of death
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