Depression is a mental health condition that entails persistent sadness, apathy, hopelessness, and/or lack of interest in life.
Mild versions of these feelings are normal parts of day-to-day life. It’s common, and even healthy, to feel sad or hopeless in reaction to a difficult life event, the state of the world around you, or just to go through a period of time where things feel off.
But when these feelings become especially frequent, intense, or long-lasting, they can interfere with the daily life activities.
Prevalence of depression
The most commonly diagnosed form of depression, major depressive disorder, affects around 16 million adults in the United States each year. That’s roughly 6.7% of all the adults in the United States. Some sources estimate that up to 15% of the adult population worldwide will experience depression at some point in their lives.
The ADAA notes that women are more likely to suffer from depression than men.
If you’re struggling with depression, you may find it difficult to seek help. One survey from the NCHS indicates that only 29% of all individuals with depression reported contacting a mental health professional in the past year.
Symptoms of depression
The symptoms of depression can vary, and may sometimes seem to contradict each other. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Persistent sadness or hopelessness: These feelings might occur without an obvious cause, and may not improve when external circumstances improve.
- Lack of energy: Those struggling with depression may find it difficult to get out of bed and complete day-to-day activities.
- Irritability or restlessness: Some presentations of depression may include excessive or agitated activity, rather than (or alternating with) a lack of energy.
- Difficulty concentrating: You might feel a general sense of mental fogginess, and/or find it harder to focus and think things through.
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities: If you’re experiencing depression, the things that usually bring you joy (socializing, hobbies, sex) may seem dull and uninteresting.
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits: Depression can cause you to sleep or eat too much or too little.
- Thoughts of suicide or death: These thoughts may be persistent, involuntary, and disruptive to your daily life.
Different types of depression
Several different diagnoses fall under the umbrella of depression. The most common forms are:
- Major Depressive Disorder: This is the most common form of depression. Those struggling with major depression experience several of the above symptoms most days, to a degree that clearly affects their day-to-day lives. These symptoms persist for at least two weeks and are generally not related to specific life stressors (loss of a job, death of a loved one, etc.).
- Persistent Depressive Disorder: This form of depression includes milder versions of the same symptoms described above. These symptoms are still present most of the time, but they are less severe and those struggling with chronic depression may be able to hide these symptoms from most people in their lives.
- Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Also known as PMDD, this form of depression is an extension of PMS. Its occurrence is linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle and usually involves the onset of depressive symptoms about seven to 10 days before the start of a menstrual period.
- Substance-Induced Depressive Disorder: Here, depressive symptoms are connected to the individual’s use of alcohol or other substances.
- Depressive Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Certain medical conditions can cause depressive symptoms. In this form of depression, the medical condition physiologically affects the individual’s brain chemistry to cause the symptoms; it is not a psychological response to being sick.
What to do if you’re experiencing depression
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, you might consider the following courses of action:
- Therapy: Find a therapist who can help you gain insight into your condition and use proven techniques to improve your symptoms and mood. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.)
- Check-ups: Because depression can be caused by medical conditions, it’s important to stay up-to-date with your medical appointments. Scheduling a check-up with your primary care doctor can help you rule out physical conditions that may contribute to your symptoms.
- Medication: Many individuals struggling with depression find that medication helps reduce their symptoms. Though most medications come with side effects, a psychiatric professional can help you manage these side effects and find the most effective treatment.
- Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-8255. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-622-4357 can also help you locate resource and treatment options.
What to look for in a therapist for depression
Prioritize an approach that appeals to you
Most therapists are equipped to treat depression, but their approaches will differ. Use some of the links below to learn more about treatment types for depression, or ask the therapist on your initial call what a typical session for depression with them looks like.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- Psychodynamic Therapy
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy
Know what questions to ask potential therapists
These questions may prove helpful when interviewing potential therapists:
- What therapy type (possibly one of the examples above) do you use when helping clients manage depression?
- Does you have experience working with clients who have my particular symptoms of depression?
- Do you use mindfulness-based exercises for depression? (This approach may be especially useful for depression, because it has been shown to reduce stress).
Assess personal fit
While personality fit is a nuanced factor, it is critical to your success in therapy. Multiple studies have revealed the importance of this factor, often referred to as “therapeutic alliance.”
On your initial phone call with the therapist, ask yourself:
- Could I see myself forming a connection with this therapist?
- Does their approach suit my personality?
- Do I feel like I will be heard and respected by this therapist?
Additionally, consider these factors:
- Some therapists are more reflective and spend most of the session listening and drawing insights about your patterns and coping styles.
- Some therapists are more directive, establishing weekly agendas and assigning tasks to complete between sessions.
- Some utilize specific techniques or tools (exposure exercises, eye movements, tapping, breath work, guided imagery, art and music, etc.).
- Some use a combination of multiple approaches.
Consider cost, location, and scheduling
Therapy will only work if it works for you. Before making an appointment, ask yourself honestly:
- Can I afford these session fees? The cost of therapy for depression depends on location, practitioner, and whether you’re using insurance.
- Can I commit to attending sessions regularly? Remember to account for travel time, and other demands in your schedule.
- Do the therapists’ available times work for me? Some therapists offer evening and weekend appointments if you have an otherwise limited schedule.
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.