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Living Well with Major Depressive Disorder


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Despite the sometimes-crippling symptoms, major depression is manageable and treatable; with medication, therapy, or both, people can recover and lead happy, fulfilling lives.

  • What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

    Major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness that affects how people feel, think, and go about their everyday tasks. The condition can also impact a person’s sleep habits, appetite, and ability to enjoy life.

    Major depressive disorder isn’t something that eventually “passes.” While most people feel sad at times in their lives, major depression is when a person is in a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Some people feel depressed without knowing why.

  • The onset can happen at any age, but usually begins in adulthood. People may only have one depressive episode, but most have multiple episodes over time.

    While the exact causes of major depression are unknown, some risk factors include a family history of depression and significant life events such as trauma, times of high stress, loss of a job or relationship, or the death of a loved one. People with a serious medical illness such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or Parkinson’s disease, may be at an increased risk of developing major depression.


  • Living With Major Depressive Disorder

    Living With Major Depressive Disorder Video

    Learn about Mike’s experience with major depression.

  • What Are the Types of Major Depression?

    There are several types of depressive disorders:

    • Postpartum Depression affects women after having a baby. It causes intense, long-lasting feelings of anxiety, sadness, and fatigue, making it difficult for mothers to care for themselves and/or their babies, as well as handle daily responsibilities. Postpartum depression can start anywhere from weeks to months after childbirth.
    • Psychotic Depression is a form of depression with psychosis, such as delusions (false beliefs) and/or hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there).
    • Seasonal Affective Disorder is triggered by changes in seasons. This form of depression usually occurs during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight.
    • Melancholic Depression is a severe form of depression where people have a complete loss of pleasure in almost all activities.

    What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

    Major depression symptoms vary from person to person. To receive a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, some of these signs and symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. Anyone who has questions should consult their doctor.

    • Continued feelings of sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, emptiness
    • Fatigue, lack of energy
    • Insomnia or other sleep issues such as waking up very early or sleeping too much
    • Anxiety, irritability, restlessness
    • Feeling worthless or guilty
    • Lack of interest or joy in hobbies and activities
    • Changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or weight gain
    • Moving, talking, or thinking more slowly
    • Forgetfulness
    • Trouble concentrating, thinking clearly, or making decisions
    • Vague aches and pains, such as headaches, joint pain, back pain, or digestive problems
    • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Tips for Living Well with Major Depressive Disorder

    Living with major depression can feel lonely. People may be fearful or ashamed of being labeled with a serious mental illness, causing them to suffer in silence, rather than get help. In fact, most people with major depression never seek the right treatment. But those struggling with this illness are not alone. It’s one of the most common and most treatable mental health disorders. With early, continuous treatment, people can gain control of their symptoms, feel better, and get back to enjoying their lives.

  • Living With Major Depression

    Living With Major Depression Video

    Learn about Dan's experience with major depression.

  • Treatment Options

    Major depression is treatable with medication, therapy, or both. Keep in mind, treatment plans are different for everyone depending on the type of depression and severity of the symptoms.

    • Medication: There are many types of antidepressant medicines that treat major depression by improving the way a person’s brain controls their mood or stress levels. These medications may take up to four weeks to take full effect. People may notice their sleep, appetite, or concentration issues improve before their mood lifts.
    • Therapy: Regularly talking to a trained therapist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist helps people identify the triggers that contribute to their depression, replace negative behaviors with positive ones, better cope with stress, set goals, and stick to their treatment plan.

    What You Can Do: Daily Habits Make a Difference

    These healthy lifestyle habits, along with professional treatment, can help you manage the symptoms of major depression:

    • Focus on self-care. Control stress with activities such as meditation or tai chi. Eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Avoid using alcohol and recreational drugs, which can worsen symptoms and make depression harder to treat.
    • Set small, achievable goals. Set realistic goals to build confidence and motivation. A goal at the beginning of treatment may be to make your bed, have lunch with a friend, or take a walk. Build up to bigger goals as you feel better.
    • Know the warning signs. Recognize your depression triggers and talk to your doctor and/or mental health professional if you notice unusual changes in how you feel, think, or act. If needed, your doctor can safely adjust your medication. Write down how you feel day-to-day (moods, feelings, reactions) to spot patterns and understand your depression triggers.
    • Educate family and friends about major depression. They can help you notice warning signs that your depression may be returning.
    • Seek support. Whether you find encouragement from family members or a support group, maintaining relationships with others is important, especially in times of crisis or rough spells.
    • Stick to your treatment plan. Even if you feel better, don’t stop going to therapy or taking your medication. Abruptly stopping medication can cause withdrawal symptoms and a return of depression. Work with a doctor to adjust your doses or medication, if needed, to continue a treatment plan.

Treatment Works. SAMHSA Can Help You Find It.

Effective treatments for major depressive disorder are available in your area. The earlier that you begin treatment, the greater likelihood of a better outcome. For confidential and anonymous help finding a specialty program near you, visit SAMHSA’s Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator.

If you, or someone you know, need help to stop using substances – whether the problem is methamphetamine, alcohol or another drug – call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or text your zip code to 435748 (HELP4U), or use the SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to get help.

Last Updated

Last Updated: 09/27/2022