Feelings of sadness after sad and unfortunate situations are normal. But, some people always feel low, and are not able to elevate themselves up to a happier mind frame. Often times this is because they are suffering from depression.

Depression is a serious medical illness that involves the brain. It is a common medical condition and is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s more than just a feeling of being “down in the dumps” or “blue” for a few days. If you are one of the more than 20 million people in the United States who have depression, the feelings do not go away. They persist and interfere with your everyday life.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) lists nine symptoms for major depression, five or more which must be present over the same two-week period, including one of the first two: 1) Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, or 2) Markedly diminished pleasure.

The other seven symptoms include: 3) Significant weight gain or loss, 4) Insomnia or hypersomnia, 5) psychomotor agitation or retardation, 6) Fatigue or loss of energy, 7) Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, 8) diminished ability to think or concentrate, 9) Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thinking, and suicide attempts.

Depression can run in families, and usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30. It is much more common in women. Women can also get postpartum depression after the birth of a baby. Some people get seasonal affective disorder in the winter. Depression is one part of bipolar disorder.

How is depression treated?

Treatments for depression exist and are very effective. Medications and counseling are the cornerstones of depression therapy. Reacting to depression as soon as it is noticed is important. With prompt treatment, a depressed person can return to a happier lifestyle and more balanced outlook on life. There are effective treatments for depression, including antidepressants and talk therapy. Most people do best by using both.

What is psychotherapy?

In psychotherapy, you talk with your family doctor, a psychiatrist or a therapist about things that are going on in your life. The focus may be on your thoughts and beliefs or on your relationships. Or the focus may be on your behavior, how it’s affecting you and what you can do differently. Psychotherapy often lasts for a limited time, such as 8 to 20 visits.

How long will the depression last?

This depends on how soon you get help. Left untreated, depression can last for weeks, months or even years. The main risk in not getting treatment is suicide. Treatment can help depression lift in 6 to 8 weeks, or less.