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Depression FAQ

Depression is a common but serious medical illness that is often misunderstood.  Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about depression. Hopewell has professional counselors who can help treat depression.  Register now if you suspect you have depression and are ready to address it.

A: Depression is a common medical illness that is thought to involve an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. While it is natural to feel down sometimes, if that low mood lingers day after day, it could signal depression. Major depression is an episode of sadness or apathy along with other symptoms that lasts at least two consecutive weeks and is severe enough to interrupt daily activities. 

Doctors aren't sure what causes depression, but a prominent theory is altered brain structure and chemical function. It is thought that brain circuits that regulate mood may function inefficiently in people with depression. Experts also think that while stressful events can trigger depression, you must have a biological predisposition to develop the disorder. Triggers could include the loss of significant relationships, certain medications, alcohol or substance abuse, hormonal changes, or even the season. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, have shown that the brains of people who have depression appear different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear different (see image at right).

Depression affects many aspects of life, including how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may find that you have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn't worth living.

A: People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. Their symptoms can vary in severity, frequency, and duration depending on the person.  However, the primary symptoms of depression are a sad mood and/or loss of interest in life. Activities that were once pleasurable lose their appeal. Patients may also experience a sense of guilt or worthlessness, lack of hope, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.  Assessment by a professional is the best way to know for sure if you are experience depression, however here are the common symptoms to look for.

  • Prolonged sad or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism or indifference
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of pleasure in activities once pleasurable (yes, including sex)
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

A:  Once diagnosed, a person with depression can be treated in several ways. The most common treatments are psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and antidepressant medication. Studies have found that combining therapy with medicine usually works better than medicine on its own, depending on your symptoms. 

According to the National Institute for Health psychotherapy may be the best option for mild to moderate depression. However, for severe depression or for certain people, antidepressant medication might also be required. While it might not work as quickly as medication alone, some studies show that certain types of psychotherapy may help your medication work faster and have more lasting benefits. 

One of most popular groups of antidepressants are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Some of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs for depression include: Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil, and Celexa. Most are available in generic versions. SSRIs tend to have fewer side effects than older antidepressants, but they may still have some side effects which tend to fade with time.  

For many people who experience depression, lifestyle changes can also have a positive impact on their symptoms.  Finding ways to reduce stress, get appropriate sleep, and increase exercise have all been shown to help. 

A:  Depression is not a sign of weakness or a negative personality. It is a major public health problem and a treatable medical condition. It's not a character flaw or a sign of personal weakness. In the same way that you can't "snap out of" diabetes, heart disease, or any other medical condition , you can't make depression go away with just will power. Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment

A: We learn from the book of Job that God permits intense pain and suffering at times in those He loves.  Also, the Psalmists often cried out to God about feeling overwhelmed with sorrow, terror and helplessness.  You can look at Psalm 88 as an example.  However, Matthew 18:10–14 tells us that though we may feel isolated and alone, God cares for us in the midst of our suffering the same as a shepherd cares for one lost sheep out of a hundred.  

C.S. Lewis said "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."  God can often use our pain for His purposes such as: 
  • Developing humility
  • Helping us sort out the best values and priorities 
  • Being taught the value of submission to God 
  • Learning obedience to God's word 
  • Learning patient endurance 
  • Developing character 
  • Producing hope 
  • Learning to depend on the resources Jesus supplies 
  • Experiencing God's enabling grace 
  • Being privileged to share in Christ's sufferings 
  • Growing in holiness
  • Developing a strong faith 
  • Learning the truth that if we have God we have all that is necessary for full maturity 

We can take comfort that God is with us in our sorrow, and that we can rely on him to care for us through our trial.  He offers hope in his Word.  Lamentations 3:21–23 tells us, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”


Shown here are PET scans of the brain showing different activity levels in a person with depression (left), compared to a person without depression (right).

Thinking about suicide?
If you, or someone you care about, is thinking about suicide, do not hesitate to call one of the suicide hotlines: 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) and 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). If you have a plan to commit suicide, go to the emergency room for immediate treatment.