The Basics: Overview
If you think you might be depressed, talk with a doctor about how you're feeling.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness that involves the brain. It can affect your thoughts, mood, and daily activities — and make you feel sad or down. But depression is more than feeling sad for a few days.
Depression can be mild, moderate, or severe. Even mild depression can become more serious if it’s not treated.
If you're diagnosed with depression, you aren’t alone. Depression is a common illness that affects millions of adults in the United States every year.
The good news is that you can get treatment for depression. Getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones. You can feel better.
The Basics: Signs of Depression
What are the signs of depression?
It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, but if you feel sad or down on most days for more than 2 weeks at a time, you may be depressed.
Depression affects people differently. Some signs of depression are:
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Forgetting things or having trouble making decisions
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing weight without meaning to
- Thinking about suicide or death
The Basics: Treatment
How is depression treated?
Depression can be treated with talk therapy, medicines (called antidepressants), or both. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for talk therapy or medicine.
If talk therapy and medicines don’t work for you, your doctor may recommend a treatment called brain stimulation therapy. This treatment uses electricity to change the way the brain works.
Check out these websites to learn more about depression:
Take Action: See a Doctor
Depression is a real illness. People with depression need treatment like people with any other illness. If you think you might be depressed, see your doctor.
Talk to a doctor about how you're feeling.
Get a medical checkup. Ask to see a doctor or nurse who can screen you for depression.
The doctor or nurse may also check to see if you have another health condition (like thyroid disease) that can cause depression or make it worse. If you have one of these health conditions, it’s important to get treatment right away.
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover screening for depression. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get screened at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Medicare may also cover depression screening at no cost. If you have Medicare, learn about Medicare coverage for depression screening.
If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost depression screening. Find a health center near you and ask about screening for depression.
To learn more, check out these resources:
Take Action: Get Treatment
Get treatment for depression.
When you have depression, getting help is the best thing you can do. Depression can be treated with talk therapy, medicines, or both.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional or use this treatment locator to find mental health services near you. Some programs offer free or low-cost treatment even if you don't have insurance.
Here are some places you can go to for help with depression:
- Doctor’s office or health clinic
- Family service or social service agency
- Psychologist or psychotherapist
- Counselor or social worker
Remember, even if asking for help seems scary, it's an important step toward feeling better.
Take Action: Get Support for Depression
If you have depression, it can also help to reach out for support from people around you. You don't have to face depression alone. A trusted family member, friend, or faith leader can help support you as you seek medical treatment.
Getting active can lower your stress level and help your treatment work better. It can also help keep you from getting depressed again. But it's important to know that physical activity alone may not be enough to treat your depression. Learn how to get active.
If someone you care about is depressed, get help.
If you think a friend or family member may be depressed, check out these tips on how to talk to a loved one about depression.
Get help right away if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide.
- To get help for yourself or someone else, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
Content last updated June 10, 2021
This information on depression was adapted from materials from the National Institute of Mental Health, NIHSeniorHealth.gov, and the Office on Women’s Health.
National Institute of Mental Health
National Institutes of Health