Step 4: Read and complete the decision guide to learn more about your symptoms.
A primary care physician can review health status and make sure there is no significant medical illness that could be at the root of a mood change.
Many illnesses cause symptoms of depression. In order for the brain to function well, the body needs to be healthy. For example, when the heart pumps less vigorously or the kidneys and liver fail to clear waste from the bloodstream, alertness, energy level, or the ability to think clearly may be one of the first things to deteriorate.
Some illnesses affect the brain directly. Diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) or Parkinson's disease cause brain tissue to degenerate. Depression is common in these illnesses. Alzheimer's disease is best known as a disease of the brain that causes a devastating decline in intellectual functioning, but depression is common in Alzheimer's too.
Depression can occur in disorders of hormone functioning (for example, low thyroid), nutritional deficiencies, immune system diseases (such as lupus), cancer, and infections like hepatitis or HIV.
Some of these illnesses are themselves very upsetting, which tempts people to say, "Well, anyone would be depressed in that situation." Surprisingly, only a minority of people become depressed during these illnesses, so depression should never be considered normal.
Depression may be the first symptom of a medical illness. Thus, when evaluating someone for depression, primary care doctors routinely check for possible non-psychiatric causes of the mood change.
This does not usually involve an extraordinary number of diagnostic tests. Keeping in mind possible causes, your primary care doctor or clinician will take a history and do a physical exam. In most cases, by doing these things and a few routine laboratory tests, the doctor can judge whether or not a major medical cause of depression is present.
Medicines can cause depression, too.
Are you taking any new medicines or supplements, either prescribed or over-the-counter, which may be responsible for some of your symptoms?