What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that typically causes low mood, hopelessness, and fatigue. It affects an estimated 322 million people in the world each year, making it one of the most common disorders. Other names for this disorder include major depression, clinical depression, and depressive disorder.

People can experience different severity levels of depression, ranging from mild to life-threatening. Depression can also last for a relatively short time or it can be chronic. In the United States, about 15 percent of people can expect to have some form of depression in their lives.

If you or a loved one shows signs of depression, we’re here to help. Learning about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for depression can empower you to take action. Perhaps the most important thing to know about depression is this: high-quality mental health care can help.

Is It Clinical Depression or the Blues?

It’s healthy and normal to have rough days and low moods. Being sad in reaction to something that is sad is a sign that someone is mentally healthy. However, depression is not a typical, temporary low mood. It’s a debilitating disorder.

Someone who is living with depression will find it difficult or impossible to live their normal lives. For some people, the symptoms are so severe that they struggle to even get out of bed or shower. On the other end of the spectrum, some people with depression can get through basic daily tasks but do not find joy in things they once loved.

In order for a mental health care provider to diagnose someone with major depression, the patient must experience:

  • At least five primary symptoms of depression
  • Almost every day
  • For at least two weeks

This diagnostic criterion means it’s important for people to know the primary symptoms of depression.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

Depression is unique in each patient and in each depressive episode. The following signs are used as part of the diagnostic process:

  • Significant changes in weight in either direction
  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
  • Sleeping too much or hardly at all
  • Sudden disinterest in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed
  • Fatigue, even with adequate sleep
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness or undue guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or obsession over death

If you or someone you love has thoughts of suicide, seek emergency care. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. 

What Causes Depression?

There is no single cause of depression. Instead, a combination of factors can cause someone to develop the disorder. Possible causes of a person’s depression include:

  • Traumatic events
  • Chronic stressors
  • Stressful life situations
  • Underlying health conditions
  • Genetic disposition
  • Unbalanced biochemistry

Some people have more than one issue causing their depression. It’s important to see a specialized professional who can help determine causes.

Treatments for Depression

Although there’s no cure for depression, several effective treatments exist. Primarily, people with depression should consider a combination of the following three treatment types:

  • Therapy
  • Medication
  • Lifestyle Changes

There are many treatments available in each of these categories. Only you and your mental health care team can decide what’s right for you.