Depression and Mood Disorders

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) call depression a “whole-body” illness because it involves the whole person— the body, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. The illness affects 17.5 million Americans—two times more women than men—and strikes people of all races, religions, education, and income levels. Depression is the result of chemical changes in the brain, which may be triggered by the stress of a big change, a loss in a person’s life, or a medical illness. Sometimes, though, depression can occur for no apparent reason.

What are the Symptoms?

Depression changes lives. Working and having fun are hard when you are depressed. Some people who are affected may try to join in at fun events, but they still may not feel well or happy. Others around them may notice that they do not do their jobs as well or seem to have as much fun as they did before the illness. Spouses, children and loved ones suffer along with the depressed person and are sometimes left alone to “carry on the household.” In addition, depression slows the recovery of more than 1/4 of patients with medical problems. Some symptoms of depression include:

  • Sadness, irritability, numbness, frequent crying and a low mood, most of the day, almost every day
  • Changes in sleep - either sleeping too much or too little, waking often at night
  • Changes in eating - either not eating (losing weight) or an increase in nervous eating 
  • Increase or decrease in activity level
  • Loss of energy or feeling tired all the time 
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, like hobbies and friendships
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Difficulty concentrating, completing tasks, remembering, making decisions, focusing or thinking 
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
  • Chronic aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
  • Decrease in workplace productivity
  • Morale problems at workplace, school or social groups

How is Depression Treated?

Although depressive illness is the most common of all emotional illnesses, it is often the one illness that goes untreated. Unlike a physical disease, depression is often looked upon as a weakness. Fear of being laughed at, misunderstood, or thought of as weak may keep many from getting help. Men especially do not seek treatment.

Depression can be treated with medication, talk therapy, lots of support from family and friends, and sometimes electro convulsive therapy (ECT). Often, more than one treatment approach is used.


Some of the symptoms of depression can greatly interrupt daily living. If a person can’t sleep, then he/she cannot do things as usual. People cannot do their jobs if they can’t complete tasks or make decisions. Treatment with medication can relieve or reduce these and other symptoms. Once symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating or loss of energy are lessened, affected individuals can then make better use of talk therapy. Some people will need medication only briefly, while others will need it for a longer period of time to help them maintain a more level mood.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy helps people learn and understand about their illness. Talking releases some of the pain bottled up inside from situations in their lives. In therapy, people can learn new and different coping skills, problem-solving skills, new or different ways to relate to each other and new ways of behaving.


Journaling, or writing, is another way to treat depression. Writing has two purposes. It gives people a safe place to express their feelings, and it can also help individuals figure out what needs to be talked about in therapy.

Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT has been used for about 50 years. Today, a new, improved delivery method makes it is very safe and effective. ECT has a high success rate for severe depression and for cases in which medication and talk therapy have not worked well.


Family and friends can be a source of encouragement for those with depression. Interactions with a loved one suffering from depression may be difficult. Listening without making judgments is one way to make interaction easier and to encourage him or her. Offering patience, respect, understanding and affection is also helpful.

For effective treatment, those suffering from depression need to feel free to talk about their problems with people they feel comfortable with. Friends and families need to understand and support this need and not feel hurt if the person chooses to talk to someone else.

Sometimes, as people get better, they make changes that alter the ways their family talks or works with each other. These changes may be necessary, but may temporarily disrupt the way the family functions.

If you think you or someone you love may be struggling with anxiety, please contact us so we recommend the best next steps for you or your family.

If this is an emergency, please go to the nearest emergency room.

Sentara in the Community