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What is depression? Who gets depression? What are the treatments for depression?


Everyone goes through times when they feel sad or down. For most people, these times come and go. But when these feelings are around all the time, it can make it hard to live your life.

Depression is more severe and lasts longer than common sadness. As many as one in five teens experience depression. Depression interferes with other parts of your life, like work, school, or relationships. Fortunately, there are many treatments for depression, and with the right kind of help, people can overcome it and lead happy, healthy lives.

What is depression?

Depression is more than feeling sad or having a bad day. People with depression usually experience other signs like the following for two weeks or longer:

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If these problems are keeping you from participating in your day-to-day activities, you should consider talking to someone you trust about how you're feeling. This person might be a family member, a friend, someone a little older you look up to, or a teacher. They can help you sort through feelings, put things in perspective, or just be there to listen to you vent. They can also help you find ways to get more help like seeing a doctor or therapist. You don't have to tackle this all by yourself.

What causes depression?

It's not always clear, but there are many things that can increase a person's chance of getting depressed. Here are some common things that can lead to depression:

  • Feeling lots of stress
  • Going through a difficult life event
  • A big life change, even if it was planned
  • Abuse
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • A medical problem
  • Taking a medication that is known to cause depression
  • Having blood relatives who have had depression

How is depression different from sadness?
Everyone has bad days and times when they feel sad. Sadness can turn into depression, but depression and sadness are different in these ways:

  • Duration (how long the feelings last): Depression is felt on most days and lasts at least 2 weeks, usually much longer
  • Severity (how intense the symptoms get): Depression makes it hard for you to live your life and do the things you want to do

Who gets depression?

Anyone can get depressed. Depression can happen at any age and to any type of person. But the following types of people seem more likely to get depressed than others:

  • Women and girls
  • People who smoke
  • People with medical problems
  • People who are stressed

How long does it last?

Depression might only last a few weeks or it may last many months. For many people, depression is only a problem during really stressful times (like a breakup or the death of a loved one). For other people, depression happens off and on throughout their life. But for both groups, there are treatments that can help reduce the symptoms and shorten how long the feelings last.

How is depression different from withdrawal from smoking?

Feeling irritable, restless, or down is common after you quit smoking. These are symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine. Changes in mood from quitting smoking usually get better in one or two weeks, and they are not as serious as depression.

If you find that you are feeling down after quitting smoking, then you should talk about this with friends and family and also call your doctor.

If I get depressed after quitting smoking, should I start smoking again?

No. It might be tempting to start again, but you should look for other ways to get help with your depression. Smoking is not a treatment for depression. And remember, smoking is linked to many serious health problems for both the smoker and the people around them. Finding ways to help your depression AND quit smoking is the best way to go.

Is it worth getting treatment for depression? Yes! Treatment almost always helps. Many people think that depression is not real, can't be all that bad, or is a sign that they are simply not tough enough to deal with life. None of these are true. Getting treatment for your depression is definitely worth it.

What are the treatments for depression?

There are many good treatments for depression. There are two basic types of treatment for depression 1) talking to a therapist or counselor and 2) taking medications. Many people use both types of treatment.

Talking to a stranger probably sounds scary, but talking to a professional is really helpful for a lot of people with depression. You do not need to feel embarrassed about talking openly and honestly about your feelings and worries. Working on ways to help improve your mood is an important part of getting better.

For many people with depression, taking medication is a useful tool in helping them get better. Antidepressant medications won't solve all your problems, but they can help you to even out your mood and be better able to handle events in your life that are making your mood worse.

Your doctor or a qualified mental health professional can help you figure out what treatment is best for you.

Taking care of you

Therapy and medication are often important pieces of treating depression. In addition to getting help from others, there are many things you can do to help yourself.

Exercise: Stay active. This can include something simple like taking a fast walk or something more structured like going to the gym or playing a team sport. Any kind of activity can help. If you need to, start small and build over time. This can be hard to do when you are down or depressed because feeling down saps all your energy. But making the effort will pay off! It will help you feel better.

Structure your day.
Create a plan to stay busy. It is especially important to get out of the house whenever you can.

Talk to and do things with other people.
Many people who are feeling depressed cut themselves off from other people. Having daily contact with other people will help your mood.

Build rewards into your life.
For many who are depressed, rewards and fun activities are often missing from their lives. It is helpful to find ways to reward yourself. Even small things add up and can help your mood.

Do what used to be fun.
A common sign of depression is not wanting to do activities that you used to find fun. It may take a little time, but doing those activities again will help improve your mood. Some people like to make a list of fun events and then do at least one a day.

Talk with friends and loved ones.
Their support is a key to your feeling better. Having a chance to tell them your concerns can help things seem less scary.

NOTE: This information is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis of major depression. It cannot take the place of seeing a mental health professional.

It is common for people who are feeling bad to think about hurting themselves or dying. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of self-destruction or suicide, please seek immediate help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or dial 911. 1-800-273-TALK is available 24/7 to provide free, private help to people in crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. External link disclaimer (Para obtener asistencia en español durante las 24 horas, llame al 1-888-628-9454).

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes.
Stress can come from major life events or from daily hassles that add up over time. Dealing with a lot of small stresses can weigh you down and wear you out as much one large event that causes you stress. Some sources of stress for teens include:

  • School demands and frustration
  • Feeling bad about yourself
  • Changes in your body
  • Problems with friends or classmates
  • Relationship problems
  • Abuse
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Separation or divorce of parents
  • Illness or family problems
  • Death of a friend or relative
  • Moving or changing schools
  • Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
  • Family financial problems

The stress-smoking link
Many teens say that stress is one of the reasons they smoke. Does this sound like you? "Cigarettes help me calm down and relax ."

Stress is part of everyone's life.
It's important to find ways to handle stress and take care of yourself without smoking. Did you know that most people in the United States are non-smokers? If most other people can cope with stress without cigarettes, you can too.

Anger is a common emotion, and most young people often deal with short periods of anger. Anger can range from a mild sensation of annoyance to a strong feeling of rage. In general, we feel anger when we think something (a situation, person, or action) is wrong. Here is a list of things that often make teens angry:

  • When someone takes something that is yours
  • Bullying
  • When your friends let you down or leave you out
  • When people say things about you that are not true
  • Not having your turn at something you want to do
  • Letting yourself down when you know you could have done better
Many of the things that make you angry can also make you feel down or worthless.
Anger can be useful if it moves you to change things that are wrong about yourself or about other people or situations. For example, if you're being bullied, getting angry can be useful if it motivates you to tell someone you trust about the bullying. But anger is never useful if you let it control you or if it causes you to lash out or get in fights.
You might feel like smoking helps you get through times when you just can't deal. But although you might feel better in the moment, smoking isn't really helping. You probably feel better while smoking because you're taking a time out. The actual smoking doesn't really have much to do with feeling better. There are other ways of coping without smoking. See if any of these works for you:

10 Ways to Cope and Not have a Smoke

1. Take a time-out.
A short break from a stressful or upsetting situation can help you think more clearly and make a healthy decision about what to do next.

2. Express yourself.
Text or call a friend to "vent" or talk to an adult who you think will understand how you are feeling.

3. Distract yourself.
Take a walk, play a game, or read a good book.

4. Move your body.
If you are feeling low, take a walk or jog around the block.

5. Rehearse and practice dealing with stressful situations.
If you are nervous about talking to your teacher, practice what you will say in front of a mirror. Got a big performance or game coming up? Picture yourself nailing it!

6. Make lists and set short-term goals.
Break down your large tasks into smaller steps. Then cross off each step as you go to see your progress.

7. Don't let negative thoughts take over.
If you are feeling down about yourself or about life, make a list of things that you are grateful for.

8. Give yourself a break.
Instead of demanding total perfection from yourself, allow yourself to be happy with doing a pretty good job. Just aim to do your best, knowing you don't have to be perfect.

9. Exercise, eat regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
Being physically run down can make it much harder to deal with a bad mood. Take care of yourself.

10. When you are feeling extremely upset, use the Stop-Breathe-Think method:
Take a timeout and stop, think about what's going on, and take a deep breath.