Depression

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Understanding Depression Slideshow

Quick GuideDepression Overview Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Types, Tests & Treatment

Depression Overview Pictures Slideshow: Symptoms, Types, Tests & Treatment

Postpartum depression

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a condition that describes a range of physical and emotional changes that many mothers can have after having a baby. PPD can be treated with medication and counseling. Talk with your health-care professional right away if you think you have PPD.

There are three types of PPD women can have after giving birth:

  1. The so-called "baby blues" happen in many women in the days right after childbirth. A new mother can have sudden mood swings, such as feeling very happy and then feeling very sad or angry. She may cry for no reason and can feel impatient, irritable, restless, anxious, lonely, and sad. The baby blues may last only a few hours or as long as one to two weeks after delivery. The baby blues do not always require treatment from a health-care professional. Often, sharing child-care duties, joining a support group of new moms, or talking with other moms helps.
  2. Postpartum depression (PPD) can happen a few days or even months after childbirth. PPD can happen after the birth of any child, not just the first child. A woman can have feelings similar to the baby blues -- sadness, despair, anxiety, irritability -- but she feels them much more strongly than she would with the baby blues. PPD often keeps a woman from doing the things she needs to do every day. When a woman's ability to function is affected, this is a sure sign that she needs to see her health-care professional right away. If a woman does not get treatment for PPD, symptoms can get worse and last for as long as one year. While PPD is a serious condition, it can be treated with medication and counseling.
  3. Postpartum psychosis is a very serious mental illness that can affect new mothers. This illness can happen quickly, often within the first three months after childbirth. Women can experience psychotic depression, in that the depression causes them to lose touch with reality, have auditory hallucinations (hearing things that aren't actually happening, like a person talking), and delusions (interpreting things differently from what they are in reality). Visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren't there) are less common. Other symptoms include insomnia (not being able to sleep), feeling agitated (unsettled) and angry, strange feelings and behaviors, as well as less commonly having suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Women who have postpartum psychosis need treatment right away and almost always need medication. Sometimes women are put into the hospital because they are at risk for hurting themselves or someone else, including their baby.

What tests do health-care professionals use to diagnose depression?

People who wonder if they should talk to their health professional about whether or not they have depression might consider taking a depression quiz or self-test, which asks questions about depressive symptoms. In thinking about when to seek medical advice about depression, the sufferer can benefit from considering if the sadness lasts more than two weeks or so or if the way they are feeling significantly interferes with their ability to function at home, school, or work and in their relationships with others. The first step to getting appropriate treatment is accurate diagnosis, which requires a complete physical and psychological evaluation to determine whether the person may have a depressive illness, and if so, what type. As previously mentioned, the side effects of certain medications, as well as some medical conditions and exposure to certain drugs of abuse, can include symptoms of depression. Therefore, the examining physician should rule out (exclude) these possibilities through a clinical interview, physical examination, and laboratory tests. Many primary-care doctors use screening tools, symptom tests, for depression, which are usually questionnaires that help identify people who have symptoms of depression and may need to receive a full mental-health evaluation.

A thorough diagnostic evaluation includes a complete history of the patient's symptoms:

  1. When did the symptoms start?
  2. How long have they lasted?
  3. How severe are they?
  4. Have the symptoms occurred before, and if so, were they treated and what treatment was received?

The doctor usually asks about alcohol and drug use and whether the patient has had thoughts about death or suicide. Further, the history often includes questions about whether other family members have had a depressive illness, and if treated, what treatments they received and which were effective. Professionals are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of exploring potential cultural differences in how people with depression experience, understand, and express depression in order to appropriately assess and treat this condition.

A diagnostic evaluation also includes a mental-status examination to determine if the patient's speech, thought pattern, or memory has been affected, as often happens in the case of a depressive or manic-depressive illness. As of today, there is no laboratory test, blood test, or X-ray that can diagnose a mental disorder. Even the powerful CT, MRI, SPECT, and PET scans, which can help diagnose other neurological disorders such as stroke or brain tumors, cannot detect the subtle and complex brain changes in psychiatric illness. However, these techniques are currently useful ruling out the presence of a number of physical disorders and in research on mental health and perhaps in the future they will be useful for the diagnosis of depression, as well.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/17/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Depression Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Depression - Treatments

    What kinds of treatments have been effective for your depression?

    Post View 29 Comments
  • Depression - Therapy

    Do you currently undergo therapy? Describe your experience.

    Post View 6 Comments
  • Depression - Symptoms in Teens

    What are the symptoms of your teenager's depression?

    Post View 5 Comments

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors