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Pennsylvania Adult/Older Adult Suicide Prevention Coalition

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About Depression

What Is Depression?

Life is full of ups and downs. We all feel sad at some point following the death of a loved one or loss of a job. But when the down times last for weeks or months at a time or keep you from living a "normal," life, you may be suffering from what doctors refer to as clinical depression. Clinical depression is different from feeling down for a few hours or days. It is a medical condition that can affect your sleep, your relationships and your physical health.

Watch this 4 minute video from the National Institute of Mental Health to learn about signs, symptoms and research on depression. Click here to read what causes Depression...



What Causes Depression?

Right now, science is trying to determine definitively whether depression is the result of genetic factors, environmental triggers, physical crisis or a combination of factors. It seems fairly clear that much of depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. In addition to being the center of thought, the brain is like a large chemical factory; it produces an incredible number of chemical substances, which are sent through the body to maintain or change the human body. Sometimes, when the brain develops a "glitch" from a depressive trigger, it thwarts the body's ability to manufacture or use these chemicals. The result is often that a person is left without a sense of well being, confidence, or pleasure. In other words, they are depressed.

One good way to understand depression is to look at diabetes. When an individual contracts diabetes, his or her body stops using the insulin produced by the pancreas. Insulin is a natural body chemical that allows food to be used as fuel. When this occurs, the only way for a diabetic to survive is to use medication, exercise, and a careful diet. Notice that talking doesn't do any good -- you can talk to a diabetic until you are blue in the face. Unless they get the proper medication, diet, and exercise, talking won't help

The same is true of depression. People suffering from depression are not capable of altering their chemical imbalance just by "cheering up" or "listening to reason" or even "knowing that someone loves them." Their disease often renders them incapable of doing those things. When that time comes, serious help is needed.

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Are You or Someone You Love Depressed?

Review these warning signs:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

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Where can I find help?

Depression can be treated with medicines or counseling or with both.

There are many medications and different types of therapy that can help. You may need a combination of both. Some options for therapy are the traditional “talk” therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and group therapy. Ask your physician or check with your local hospital or university for options. Please visit our Resources Page for more information and options or click here to download the most recent version of the AOASPC Resource Manual which includes contact information for local resources throughout Pennsylvania.

If you have a friend who seems depressed, the first thing you must do is listen. Ask questions, and be persistent in getting answers. Don't make judgments or try to convince your friend that he or she isn't making any sense. Try to listen and learn without judging or attempting to convince them that they are wrong in their thinking.

You can find professional help through these organizations:

  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Family doctors
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • University or medical school programs
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Family services, social agencies, or clergy
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
  • Health maintenance organizations

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