Frequently Asked Questions - Depression

What is depression?

Depression is more than being sad or feeling grief after a loss. Depression is a medical condition, just like diabetes or heart disease. Day after day, depression affects your thoughts, feelings, physical health and behaviours. It affects normal day-to-day activities. For diagnostic purposes, a depressive episode must be experienced at a certain level of severity for a minimum duration of two weeks.

How prevalent is depression?

Almost 3 million Canadians have serious depression. It accounts for 30% of all disability recorded at three of Canada’s best known companies. Depression affects 10 to 15% of men and 15 to 25% of women.

Who is at risk of developing depession?

These factors can increase the risk of developing or triggering depression:

  • Having relatives with depression
  • Being a woman
  • Having traumatic experiences as a child
  • Having family members who have committed suicide
  • Experiencing stressful life events
  • Having few friends or other personal relationships
  • Recently having given birth (postpartum depression)
  • Having a serious illness
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Taking certain medications (consult a doctor)
What are the risk factors/triggers for depression?

It’s unknown exactly what causes depression. There are a variety of potential factors:

  • Family history and genetics — inherited traits, including psychological vulnerability, and relatives with depression
  • Life events, such as a loss of a loved one, financial problems, medical illness or high stress
  • Biological factors unique to the individual, as well as hormonal changes due to physical conditions
  • Early childhood trauma


What are the symptoms of depression?
  • Sad mood
  • Preoccupation with past failures or inadequacies
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Feelings of uselessness, hopelessness, excessive guilt
  • Slowed thinking, forgetfulness, difficulty
    concentrating, difficulty in making decisions
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies, people
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Changes in weight and appetite — eating too little or too much
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Decreased sexual drive
  • Thoughts of death, dying or suicide
What do I need to tell my doctor?
  • Write down any symptoms you’ve had
  • Write down key personal information
  • Make a list of all medications you are taking
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor
  • Take a family member or friend along

Discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor and describe how they are affecting your
life (e.g. inability to get out of bed and get to work/school). Your doctor can suggest or provide appropriate therapy. Make sure to discuss all of the available treatments and medications and their benefits and side effects before making any decisions.

What are the treatment options for depression?

The most common forms of treatment for depression are antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. The most effective treatment is generally a combination of both. Some individuals suffering from depression may need a hospital stay or an outpatient treatment program until symptoms improve.

There are several types of antidepressant medication available, and they are categorized by how they work on the naturally occurring chemicals in your brain that affect your mood.  Finding the right medication or medications will likely take trial and error. Patience is required, as some medications need eight weeks or more to take full effect, but don’t give up if you don’t find the right medication right away.

Complementary treatment, such as peer support groups or other support programs, may be helpful.

Finally, additional treatments such as massage, mindfulness meditation, shiatsu, therapeutic touch, aromatherapy, tai chi, Pilates and yoga can also help to improve wellness.

What are the things I need to do to get well?
  • Stick to your treatment plan. Don’t skip psychotherapy sessions. Even if you’re feeling well, continue to take medication as prescribed.
  • Learn about depression Empower yourself by learning about your condition.
  • Pay attention to the warning signs. Find out what triggers your depression. Make a plan so that you know what to do if your symptoms get worse. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes. Ask friends or family to watch out for warning signs.
  • Get exercise. Physical activity may help reduce the symptoms of
    depression. Consider walking, jogging, swimming, gardening, or any other physical activity.
  • Maintain
    an adequate diet. The Canada Food Guide is a useful reference in helping you choose how to eat well. Choose more protein and Omega 3, and fewer simple carbohydrates.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drugs. It may seem like they lessen your problems, but in the long run, they generally worsen symptoms and make the depression harder to treat.
  • Get adequate sleep. This is especially important. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about what you can do.
What else can I read about depression?
  • Ending the Depression Cycle, P.Beiling & M.M. Antony (2003)
  • Mayo Clinic on Depression, K. Kramilinger (ed.) (2001)
  • The Depression Workbook: Living with Depression and Manic Depression, M. Copeland (2001)
  • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, A. Solomon (2001)
  • Against Depression, Dr. Peter Kramer (2006)
  • The Feeling Good Handbook, David D. Burns (1999)
Where else can I go to learn more about depression?