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Are you depressed? Here are some symptoms to look for — and tips for getting help.

Everyone feels sad now and then. If you’re feeling sadder than usual, or the feeling won’t go away, you may wonder if you’re depressed.

Dr. M. Justin Coffey, chair of Geisinger’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, helps us spot the symptoms of this common, yet often undiagnosed mental health condition.

What causes depression?

You may have heard that depression is simply caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but it’s more complex than that.

Research suggests it’s a combination of social, psychological and biological factors and can sometimes be triggered by a traumatic or stressful event. Abuse, conflict and grief are common triggers, but genetic factors play a major role.

“Depression is often hereditary,” explains Dr. Coffey. “In fact, researchers have identified multiple genes that can make a person more vulnerable to depression.”

Research has also uncovered a link between depression and the parts of the brain that affect memory and emotions. This link suggests that depression may be related to the amount and function of serotonin, and other brain chemicals, that are important to how our brains work and transmit messages along nerve fibers.

Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that regulates mood, appetite, sleep, memory and other vital systems. Current research suggests that the amount and how the brain cells use serotonin and other similar neurotransmitters can affect how we experience our emotions.

Identifying symptoms of depression

Depression can appear at any age, and the symptoms can vary from person to person. For many who have depression, the symptoms are usually severe enough to negatively impact their day-to-day life. But this isn’t always the case.

“Some of these symptoms can be a part of life’s normal ups and downs,” explains Dr. Coffey. “But if you’re experiencing several symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, it’s more likely to be depression.”

Here are 7 common signs of depression that you shouldn’t ignore:

  1. Avoiding friends or beloved activities
  2. Feelings of hopelessness
  3. Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
  4. Low energy or loss of motivation
  5. Lost appetite or binge-eating
  6. Difficulty with concentration
  7. Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

Symptoms of depression can vary in severity and may appear in short bursts or persist over weeks.

Seeking treatment for depression

Do you have some of the symptoms — or know someone who does? There’s good news, according to Dr. Coffey. Treatment is available and can help you feel better.

“Depression can be treated with psychotherapy (or talk therapy), medication or brain stimulation,” he explains. “For many people, combining talk therapy with medication or brain stimulation is the most effective approach."

Most antidepressants can take between two and four weeks to make an impact. But once your ideal medication is found, you should start to feel more like yourself.

Psychotherapy can take the form of cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy or other forms of therapy.

With cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapist will help you identify unhelpful thoughts and teach you how to challenge and modify them for better outcomes. While interpersonal therapy is a short-term treatment that focuses on the triggers of depression, improving interpersonal relationships and social anxiety.

“There are many safe and effective treatment options available, including different approaches to talk therapy," says Dr. Coffey. "You may need to try a few options before finding the right fit for you, but don't let that be a deterrent. Your happiness — and life — are worth it.”

Next steps:

How to spot signs of depression in teens
Meet M. Justin Coffey, MD

Need help right away? Or considering self harm? National hotlines are available 24/7. We recommend:

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