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Feelings of sadness are normal for everyone. However, depression is more than just feeling a little low. Symptoms of depression include a deep sadness that’s severe enough to affect daily life. Signs of depression can persist for weeks, months or even years.

Without treatment, depression can lead to significant mental and physical health complications, including the risk of suicide. At The University of Kansas Health System, our mental and behavioral health specialists can work with you or your loved one to effectively manage the signs of depression and improve your quality of life.

What is depression?

Depression, sometimes called clinical depression, is a diagnosable mood disorder that’s defined by chronic feelings of overwhelming sadness. One of the most common mental health concerns, depression affects approximately 1 out of every 10 adults in the United States each year. Depression is also one of the leading causes of disability.

Depression is a feeling of hopelessness and sadness that won’t go away, with symptoms that can get worse without treatment. People with depression often experience more than one recurrent depressive episode throughout their lifetimes.

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Types of depression

There are several different types of depression:

  • Dysthymia is a low-grade, long-term depression. Although depression symptoms are persistent, they may not be serious enough to interfere with daily life. However, although dysthymia symptoms may be less severe than those of a major depressive episode, even low-grade depression can affect personal and professional relationships. Many of those with dysthymia have one or more major depressive episodes at other times in their life.

  • Major depression, sometimes called major depressive disorder, is what’s most commonly thought of when people think of depression. A depressive episode can last weeks or months, and the symptoms can severely affect the quality of your day-to-day life. Severe depressive episodes can sometimes lead to depressive psychosis, which can include delusions and hallucinations. Atypical depression is diagnosed when someone with major depression sees their symptoms temporarily improve in response to a positive event.

  • Postpartum depression is seen in women after childbirth. More than just the “baby blues,” postpartum depression symptoms can be serious enough to affect the health and well-being of both mother and baby. The contributing factor to postpartum depression is the combination of rapid hormonal changes combined with the emotional and physical impact of caring for a newborn. Some women may also experience perinatal depression, which is depression that occurs during pregnancy. Learn more about our specialized maternal mental health care.

  • SAD affects people who live in northern climates and are exposed to less natural sunlight during winter months. Those who are diagnosed with SAD may notice that their depression symptoms lessen as the seasons change back to longer days and warmer weather. Many people with SAD find light therapy is effective to treat their seasonal affective disorder symptoms.

  • Situational depression is temporary depression due to a specific event, such as a serious illness, unemployment, divorce or loss of a loved one. Although feeling upset during challenging times is perfectly normal, situational depression is diagnosed when the emotional response is out of proportion to the initial event and symptoms interfere with daily life.

Depressive episodes are also seen in those people who have bipolar disorder, alternating with manic episodes. However, bipolar disorder requires a different approach to treatment compared to clinical depression that occurs on its own.

Depression symptoms and risks

Depression symptoms can vary from person to person, and not every person with depression will have the same signs. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns ranging from insomnia to sleeping excessively
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Deep, persistent sadness
  • Feeling overwhelmed by normal daily activities
  • Feeling socially withdrawn
  • Inability to feel positive emotions
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Low mood and energy levels
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Persistent thoughts of self-harm or death
  • Persistent worry or anxiety

The symptoms of depression can last weeks, months or even longer. Some people can have just a single depressive episode in their lifetime while others struggle with recurrent depression.

Depression is a combination of biological and environmental elements that has several different potential causes and risk factors:

  • A family history of depression
  • A personal history of mental illness
  • Brain biochemistry
  • Certain medical conditions, such as living with chronic pain
  • Drug or alcohol abuse or addiction
  • Early childhood trauma
  • Stressful life events, such as divorce, financial problems or death of a loved one

Depression diagnosis and screening

Depression can often go undiagnosed because the symptoms of depression are often so overwhelming that the affected person cannot find the motivation to seek help. Doctors will typically diagnose depression based on a medical history and evaluation, including questions about the symptoms and how long they’ve lasted.

If an underlying medical cause, such as a thyroid condition, is suspected to contribute to depression symptoms, additional tests or screening procedures may be recommended.

Depression treatment

The signs of depression can be treated in multiple ways to address both the physical and mental health aspects of this mood disorder:

  • Anti-depressant medication can restore the brain’s proper neurotransmitter balance.
  • Counseling can help process past trauma and correct unhealthy behavioral patterns as well as offer emotional support.
  • Lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly can help reduce feelings of depression.
  • Drug-free therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation to treat recurring depression that doesn't respond to other forms of treatment.
  • Ketamine nasal spray outpatient therapy for those with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and major depressive disorder

Your doctor may also connect you with additional resources to help you heal from depression, like joining a support group.

Why choose us for depression care?

The University of Kansas Health System offers multidisciplinary mental and behavioral healthcare in multiple settings for children, adolescents and adults. Our care team includes many board-certified physicians in psychiatry, child psychiatry and/or addiction psychiatry. Many doctors have more than 1 board certification and have dual training in psychiatry and internal medicine.

Our mental and behavioral health program is the most comprehensive program in Kansas. It features:

  • A clinical care team that features specialized nurse triage for patients
  • A medical psychology team of doctors who co-manage patients
  • A nationally recognized addiction program, among the oldest in the nation
  • A nationally recognized psychology training program, which offers training for future care teams
  • Services in multiple locations within a fully integrated healthcare system

We have one of the largest residency programs at the University of Kansas and the only residency program in the region to provide training in both internal medicine and psychiatry.

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Turning Point

Turning Point offers free classes, programs and tools designed to empower and educate people affected by chronic or serious illness.

Learn more about our services