Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by sadness, or having the blues. Nearly everyone feels sad or down from time to time. Sometimes, however, the sad feelings become intense, last for long periods, keep a person from leading a normal life, and interfere with sleep.
Stress is good for you. It keeps you alert, motivated and primed to respond to danger. As anyone who has faced a work deadline or competed in a sport knows, stress mobilizes the body to respond, improving performance. Yet too much stress, or chronic stress may lead to major depression in susceptible people.
"Like email and email spam, a little stress is good but too much is bad; you'll need to shut down and reboot," says Esther Sternberg, MD, a leading stress researcher and the chief of neuroendocrine...
Feeling very fatigued and slow or anxious and irritable
Loss of enjoyment in things, which were once pleasurable
Lack of energy
Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
Changes in appetite that lead to changes in weight
An increase or decrease in the need for sleep
Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempting suicide (if you are thinking of acting on ideas about suicide, call your local 24-hour suicide hotline right away).
Depression is classified as major if the person has at least five of these symptoms for two weeks or more. However, there are several types of depressive disorders. Someone with fewer than five of these symptoms who is having difficulty functioning should still seek treatment for his or her symptoms. Tell your doctor how you are feeling. He or she may refer you to a mental health care specialist.
How Are Sleep and Depression Linked?
An inability to sleep, or insomnia, can be one of the signs of depression (a small percentage of depressed people, approximately 15%, oversleep or sleep too much). Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. Lack of sleep caused by another medical illness or by personal problems can make depression worse. An inability to sleep that lasts over a long period of time is also an important clue that someone may be depressed.
What Causes Depression?
There are several factors linked to depression, including:
Family history of mental disorders
Chemical imbalances in the brain
Physical and mental health disorders
Environment such as living in a place that is often cloudy and gray
Your doctor will take your medical history, and will likely ask you whether anyone in your family has depression or other mental health problems. He or she may also ask you to describe your moods, your appetite and energy, if you feel under stress, and if you have ever thought about suicide.
Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to determine if the cause of your symptoms is caused by another illness.
What Depression and Insomnia Treatments Are Available?
Treatment choices for depression depend on how serious the illness is. Major depressive disorder is treated with psychotherapy (counseling, or talk therapy with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or licensed counselor), medications, or a combination of the two.