by Bakul Patel, M.D., Internal Medicine

Depression is a common but often misunderstood illness. You probably have days when you feel sad or blue. Most people do. But after a few days your feelings should start to lift. If you find it hard to move on and your sadness is starting to interfere with daily life, it may be time to seek help. Your bout might really be depression.

If your depression has lasted more than two weeks, it is definitely time to speak with your doctor. Depression is not just in your head. It’s a complex illness that can be mild or severe and is different from person to person. But it can be effectively treated and the sooner you start getting help, the better.

You may lose interest in things you used to enjoy. You might not have energy for work or leisure activities. Perhaps you’re eating or sleeping too little or too much. You may not want to be with people and start to isolate yourself. Here are a few other common symptoms of depression:
• Feeling hopeless or pessimistic, guilty, worthless or helpless
• Being persistently sad or having an empty feeling
• Being easily fatigued or restless
• Difficulty concentrating or making a decision
• Thoughts of death or suicide

Getting Help
Your first step should be to visit a doctor or mental health specialist. Some medications or medical conditions can cause symptoms similar to depression. An exam, interview and lab tests may be ordered to rule out these possibilities. A psychological evaluation may be needed and the health professional may ask you about:
• Family history of depression or mental illness
• Your symptoms: when they started, how long you’ve felt this way, how severe are the symptoms
• Previous history of depression and what treatment you received
• If previous history, what has helped make things better and what made things worse
• Use of alcohol or drugs and family history of drugs and alcohol
• Family history of depression and suicide
• Any thoughts of hurting yourself or others

These questions will help with your treatment plan, which might include medication, psychotherapy or other methods. Remember, there is hope. See a health professional as soon as you can. Many people have been through the same experience and can help.

Bakul Patel, M.D., is a board-certified internal medicine physician. His office is located at 26740 Towne Center Drive, Building C, in Foothill Ranch. To contact him, please call (949) 588-9293.