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JAMA Internal Medicine Patient Page
September 3, 2019

I’m Worried About Depression—What Should I Know?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
  • 2JAMA Internal Medicine
JAMA Intern Med. Published online September 3, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0637
What Is Depression?

Depression is a common medical illness that causes feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in things that usually bring joy. While everyone experiences sad feelings at times, clinical depression is when these symptoms last 2 or more weeks. For many, depression happens in a cycle of recurrent episodes. Depression leads to life problems, such as trouble at work, school, and in relationships. Depression can be treated; however, untreated depression increases the risk of self-harm and suicide.

Why Do I Feel Depressed?

There are many things that increase the risk of depression:

  • Negative life experiences and trauma, even in childhood

  • Having a long-term medical condition

  • Lack of social support or meaning in life

  • A history of depression in other family members

  • Medications and other substance use

  • Shifts in hormones that happen around menstruation and childbirth

Depression can appear differently in members of different age groups and cultures.

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

  • A discussion with your physician about your symptoms is often enough to make the diagnosis.

  • A careful review of medications, substance use, and medical history is important.

  • Surveys such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (https://www.mdcalc.com/phq-9-patient-health-questionnaire-9) can aid in diagnosing depression as well as monitoring response to treatment.

  • Your doctor may ask you questions about your home environment, including whether you have guns in the home. This information is needed to help you to increase home safety.

When Will I Feel Better?

For some people, depression gets better over the course of weeks to months, and treatment can be stopped. For others, ongoing treatment is necessary to help manage the symptoms of depression. For all, maintaining social supports, such as friends, coworkers, or family, and maintaining regular physical activity can help to avoid future depression. Depression can often be treated by your primary care physician. However, sometimes, a referral to a psychiatrist to explore more advanced therapies can be helpful.

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Section Editor: Michael Incze, MD, MSEd.
The JAMA Internal Medicine Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Internal Medicine. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, email reprints@jamanetwork.com.
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Article Information

Corresponding Author: Michael A. Incze, MD, MSEd, Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 505 Parnassus, San Francisco, CA 94143-0124 (michael.incze@ucsf.edu).

Published Online: September 3, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0637

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

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