Dr. Freda Lewis Hall, Chief Medical Officer of Pfizer, Explains the Signs of Depression

It's normal to feel sad every now and then, but if you're struggling with daily life for weeks at a time, then you should seek  help from a healthcare professional. Depression is a real disorder — don't ignore the signs and symptoms.

Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, Chief Medical Officer of Pfizer, explains that depression, which is more common in women than in men, can be triggered by many life events — the death of a loved one is a common one. It is usually caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and other factors, in addition to a trigger. Some people are able to get up and bounce back quickly, but others seem to go beyond normal sadness and become depressed. It's important to get help for depression early on, because it can get worse if it isn't addressed, and can lead to other physical and mental health problems.

Depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain, Dr. Freda explains. Brain imaging technologies have shown that the brains of people who have depression may look different than those of people without depression. More specifically, the parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior may appear different — though not all forms of depression show the same pattern. These images do not reveal why the depression has occurred, and they also can't be used to diagnose depression.

To be diagnosed with major depression, you must have five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
  • Feeding sad, empty or tearful most of the day
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
  • Trouble sleeping or too much sleeping
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Sudden bursts of anger
  • Agitation, restlessness or irritability
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

There are different treatment options available, including medication (anti-depressants), psychotherapy, and sometimes, a type of brain stimulation called electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be helpful.

If you believe that a loved one is battling depression, the most important thing you can do is help them get a diagnosis and treatment. Offer them your support and understanding, and NEVER ignore comments about suicide.

You can contact the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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