Simple screening questions can detect about half of depressed patients in clinical care settings, such as your health provider's office. A "yes" response to the following two questions will detect the possibility of major depression:
- Over the past two weeks, have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?
- Have you felt little interest or pleasure in doing things?
If a patient says, "yes" to these two questions, to be diagnosed as having major depression, the healthcare provider would look to see if there are at least four of the following additional symptoms:
- Significant weight loss or gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
- Disturbances in sleep pattern
- Noticeable agitation or slowness
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Inappropriate feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
These symptoms must persist for at least two weeks and must be accompanied by noticeable impairment in social relationships and work functioning. Talk to your healthcare provider about these questions and symptoms, if you feel that you or a family member may have major depression.
Types of Depression
Just like other illnesses, such as heart disease, depression comes in different forms. And within these, there are variations in the number of symptoms, their severity, and persistence.
- Major depression can have a combination of symptoms (see accompanying symptoms list) that interferes with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy previously pleasurable activities. A major depressive episode may occur only once; but more commonly, several episodes may occur in a lifetime.
- Dysthymia, a less severe type of depression, involves long-lasting, chronic symptoms that do not seriously disable, but keep you from functioning well or feeling good.
- Bipolar disorder (or manic depressive illness) is characterized by cycling mood changes: severe highs (mania) and lows (depression), often with periods of normal mood in between.
- Postpartum depression can make new mothers feel restless, anxious, fatigued, and worthless. Some new moms worry they will hurt themselves or their babies. Unlike the "baby blues," postpartum depression does not go away quickly. Researchers think that changes in a woman's hormone levels during and after pregnancy may lead to postpartum depression.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter. Some people may sleep too much, have little energy, and crave sweets and starchy foods. They may also feel depressed.