Stay active. Exercise can make a difference to your energy levels and help stimulate hormones (such as endorphins) that help you feel better about yourself. Make a realistic goal to increase your level of activity. For example, if you’ve found it difficult even to get out of bed for the last few days, an achievable goal might be just to go for a walk outside in the fresh air for five minutes.
Thyroid disease and disorder symptoms and signs depend on the type of the thyroid problem. Examples include heat or cold intolerance, sweating, weight loss or gain, palpitations, fatigue, dry skin, constipation, brittle hair, joint aches and pains, heart palpitations, edema, feeling bloated, puffiness in the face, reduced menstrual flow, changes in the frequency of bowel movements and habits, high cholesterol, hoarseness, brittle hair, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, a visible lump or swelling in the neck, tremors, memory problems, depression, nervousness, agitation, irritability, or poor concentration.
Appropriate treatment for depression starts with a physical examination by a physician. Certain medications, as well as some medical conditions such as viral infections or a thyroid disorder, can cause the same symptoms as depression and should be ruled out. The doctor should ask about alcohol and drug use, and whether the patient has thoughts about death or suicide.
Self-help—For mild depression, or when moderate or severe depression begins to improve with other treatments, there are some things you can do on your own to help keep you feeling better. Regular exercise, eating well, managing stress, spending time with friends and family, spirituality, and monitoring your use of alcohol and other drugs can help keep depression from getting worse or coming back. Talking to your doctor, asking questions, and feeling in charge of your own health are also very important. Always talk to your doctor about what you’re doing on your own.
You may have heard about an herbal medicine called St. John's wort. Although it is a top-selling botanical product, the FDA has not approved its use as an over-the-counter or prescription medicine for depression, and there are serious concerns about its safety (it should never be combined with a prescription antidepressant) and effectiveness. Do not use St. John’s wort before talking to your health care provider. Other natural products sold as dietary supplements, including omega-3 fatty acids and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), remain under study but have not yet been proven safe and effective for routine use. For more information on herbal and other complementary approaches and current research, please visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website.
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 that are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the accepted diagnostic reference for mental illnesses. 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, work, or 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, which are symptom tests, for depression. Such tests are usually questionnaires that help identify people who have symptoms of depression and may need to receive a full mental health evaluation.
Other health conditions. Some antidepressants may cause problems if you have certain mental or physical health conditions. On the other hand, certain antidepressants may help treat other physical or mental health conditions along with depression. For example, bupropion (Wellbutrin, Aplenzin, Forfivo XL) may help relieve symptoms of both attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. Other examples include using duloxetine (Cymbalta) to help with pain symptoms or fibromyalgia, or using amitriptyline to prevent migraines.
Depression, especially in midlife or older adults, can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are often worse when depression is present. Sometimes medications taken for these physical illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression. A doctor experienced in treating these complicated illnesses can help work out the best treatment strategy.