Antidepressant. A drug used to treat depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants that includes drugs like Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline.)
Anxiety disorder. A chronic condition that causes anxiety so severe it interferes with your life. Some people with depression also have overlapping anxiety disorders.
Depression can be like an old blanket -- a smothering, sometimes comforting cloak between you and the world. Unfortunately, getting free of its symptoms is not as simple as crawling out from under the blanket. Most people experience ups and downs in the journey from depression. The fluctuations are normal, and professionals have ways of dealing with them.
Bipolar disorder. A type of depression that causes sometimes extreme mood swings between depression and mania (or hypomania.) This condition used to be called manic depression.
Dysthymia. A type of chronic, low-grade depression that is less severe than major depression. It can also last for years. Dysthymia may not disable a person, but it prevents one from functioning normally or feeling well.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). A treatment for depression that uses an electric current to create a brief, controlled seizure. It is safe and often effective for depression that hasn't responded to drugs or therapy.
Hypomania. A milder form of mania.
Major depression. The medical diagnosis for depression that lasts for at least two weeks and interferes with daily life. It causes symptoms like low energy, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.
Mania. A symptom of bipolar disorder, mania is a period of intense energy, euphoria or irritability, sleeplessness, or recklessness. It is so extreme that it interferes with a person's life and can involve false beliefs (delusions) or perceptions (hallucinations).
Mood stabilizers. A class of drugs used to treat some types of depression, like bipolar disorder. They include lithium and some drugs originally used for seizures called anticonvulsants. These include Depakote (divalproex), carbamazepine (Tegretol), and Lamictal (lamotrigine).
Neurotransmitter. A chemical in the brain, like serotonin or norepinephrine, that sends messages between brain cells. Medicines that treat depression often alter the levels of these chemicals.
Panic attack. A sudden feeling of intense fear or anxiety, accompanied by physical symptoms, that isn't triggered by real danger. Panic attacks are common in many anxiety disorders.
Postpartum depression. Depression that affects women who have recently given birth. Many new mothers experience a brief episode of mild mood changes known as the "baby blues," but some will suffer from postpartum depression, a much more serious condition that requires active treatment and emotional support for the new mother.
Psychotherapy. A way of treating a mental or emotional disorder by talking with a therapist. It may also be called "talking therapy" or "talk therapy."
Psychologist. A non-MD professional (PhD or PsyD) who specializes in the treatment of mental or emotional disorders. Psychologists typically use psychotherapy to treat people with depression and other conditions.
Psychiatrist. A medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in treating psychological disorders. Because psychiatrists are doctors, they can prescribe drugs like antidepressants. Some also use psychotherapy.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression that occurs seasonally, usually starting in fall or winter and ending in spring or early summer. It is often treated with phototherapy, which is regular exposure to special lights.
SOURCES: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Guide to Depression and Bipolar Disorder," "Rapid Cycling and Its Treatment," and "Psychotherapy: How it works and how it can help." Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth edition, Text Revision, American Psychiatric Association, 2000. National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Major Depression" and "Seasonal Affective Disorder." National Institutes for Mental Health: "Depression."