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Are you experiencing crying spells, changes in sleep or appetite, loss of interest in activities, poor concentration, or reduced sexual drive? These symptoms and others—such as thoughts of suicide or feelings of worthlessness—can be significant signs of depression.

Depression types

"Depression varies in intensity," says adult psychiatrist O.B. Towery, MD, medical director of the behavioral health center at John Muir Health. "In some cases it is mild, experienced as a lowered mood or sadness.”

“Others experience mood swings between euphoria and depression, such as in bipolar disorder. At its worst, depression may be so severe that a person is unable to function," says Dr. Towery.

Causes of depression

There is no single known cause of depression. Depression is a medical condition scientists believe to be related to an imbalance of certain brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, especially serotonin.

A combination of genetic, biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors may trigger depression, including:

  • Loss of a significant relationship
  • Loss of job or position
  • Feeling trapped and powerless in adverse life situations
  • A genetic predisposition to depression
  • Imbalance of brain neurotransmitters

Depression treatment

The two most common treatments are psychotherapy and antidepressant medication (or mood-stabilizing medication for bipolar disorder). Psychotherapy techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, insight-oriented psychotherapy, and interpersonal therapy.

Antidepressant medication is believed to work primarily by altering the neurotransmitter systems of the brain. Medications are usually taken for six months to a year after a depressive episode but may be taken for prolonged periods in severe cases.

Help with depression

  • Do you feel helpless and hopeless?
  • Is depression interfering with your functioning in relationships at work or at school?
  • Is the quality of your life affected by low moods?
  • Do you think about suicide?

If you answer ’yes’ to any of these questions, you could benefit from professional assistance, according to Dr. Towery. "Remember,” he says, “depression is not a sign of weakness or moral failure. Don’t hesitate to seek help."

Finding help

"Today, with our recent discoveries about the human brain, depression is more treatable than ever," Dr. Towery says, "The Bay Area has an abundance of psychotherapists and psychiatrists with expertise in nearly every specialty area. You might talk with your family physician about help or a referral to a specialist."

Located in Concord, the behavioral health center at John Muir Health provides inpatient and outpatient behavioral health programs and services including psychiatry, geriatric psychiatry, alcohol and drug treatment, inpatient/partial hospitalization, aftercare and other treatment options.

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