This purpose of this article is to provide general information on depression, what causes it, and what can be done about it, but is not meant to replace consultation with a mental health professional. If you are concerned about depression in your own life, or that of another, please feel free to contact our office to set up an appointment.


Everyone goes through emotional ups and downs. It is normal to feel happy at times for no apparent reason, and equally normal to reach a low point seemingly without cause. It is less natural for our moods to swing frequently and quickly between highs and lows, however, or to reach lows and stay there for a long time.

Having the blues or being “down in the dumps” once in a while is probably nothing to be concerned about. But depression, in its more severe forms, needs to be examined. Depressive illness, not the normal “touch of the blues”, can have a disturbing effect on our lives. Frequent and long states of depression can affect one’s health, erode a marriage, or undermine job performance.

It is possible to drift from feelings of sadness or low spirits into a state of depression without realizing it. While the symptoms are not always clear and obvious, depression may be indicated in several ways:

  1. low mood swings that won’t go away
  2. lost interest in everything — your job
  3. family life, hobbies, and other interests
  4. no appetite or an excessive appetite
  5. low self-image
  6. unusual nervousness or irritability
  7. frequent crying spells

Unfortunately, because these symptoms can also be caused by physical ailments or other factors, a developing depressive illness may not be readily diagnosed. The depressed state may be allowed to linger indefinitely until a crisis of some sort develops.

What causes it?

Most depressions are caused by psychological factors, but some are physically based. In physically caused cases, depression may be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain, or a change in body chemistry. Depressions of this type may require medicines and specialized treatment by trained medical and health care specialists. Other less complicated cases may be cleared up with a simple change of diet.

Often, depression is related to an event or series of events in one’s life. People who can point to something in their lives that started the depression most likely are affected psychologically, rather than physically.

Divorce, death of a loved one, or the trauma of a severe accident sometimes will trigger a bout of severe depression that continues for an extended period of time. This is especially true if the person feels shame or guilt because of what’s happened. Depression often falls on those who have unrealistic expectations of themselves, their families, or their careers. Labeling oneself a failure or a bad person for not meeting a self-imposed standard can turn the normal “low days” of one’s emotional cycle into a time of depressive illness.

What can be done?

Fortunately, depression can be diagnosed and, in almost all cases, treated successfully. Doctors and therapists are prepared to diagnose and guide patients to recovery from depressive illness. Outside the medical field, one has the support of clergy, informed friends, family members, and various support groups made up of people working on similar problems of their own.

If you recognize the warning signs of depression in yourself or someone you care about, and if the symptoms persist for a number of weeks with no sign of improvement, it is time to seek help.

The above information was adapted from the University of Massachusetts Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. We wish to thank them for permission to use this material.