What Is Depression?

Some 15 million Americans a year struggle with depression, an illness that comes in many forms—from major depression and seasonal affective disorder, to dysthymia and bipolar disorder. Depression is an illness that increasingly afflicts people worldwide, interfering with concentration, motivation and many other aspects of everyday functioning. It is a complex disorder, involving many systems of the body, including the immune system, either as cause or effect. It disrupts sleep, and it interferes with appetite, in some cases causing weight loss, in others weight gain. Because of its complexity, a full understanding of depression has been elusive. Scientists have some evidence that the condition is related to the gut and its population of bacteria, which is heavily influenced by diet. Of course, depression involves mood and thoughts as well as the body, and it  causes pain for both those with the disorder and those who care about them. Depression is increasingly common in children.

Everyone experiences an occasional blue mood; depression is a more pervasive experience of bleak outlook and lack of energy. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depression cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. There is some evidence that, painful as depression is, it serves a positive purpose, bringing with it ways of thinking that force people to focus on problems as a prelude to solving them.

Even in the most severe cases, depression is highly treatable. The condition is often cyclical, and early treatment may prevent or forestall recurrent episodes. Many studies show that the most effective treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy, which addresses problematic thought patterns, with or without the use of antidepressant drugs.

Recent Posts on Depression

Joanna Moncrieff on The Myth of the Chemical Cure

The future of mental health interview series continues with Joanna Moncrieff on The Myth of the Chemical Cure.

Navigating Grief: How to Cope

Let an expert help you cope with grief. It's okay to let people know you are struggling.

Valentine’s Day, Love, and the Broken Soul

By Billi Gordon Ph.D. on February 11, 2016 Obesely Speaking
Even if you are lucky enough to find "true love" – do you know where to get the app for it?

The Myth of the Glowing New Mother

By Darby Saxbe Ph.D. on February 11, 2016 Home Base
Postpartum depression is real. Does it come from a mismatch between modern society and the demands of motherhood?

An Advanced Happiness Skill

There are three parts to this Advanced Happiness Skill. One is to be passive. The second is to be detached. And the third is to observe.

A Howl from the Wolf of Winter Blues

By Michael Terman Ph.D. on February 11, 2016 Chronotherapy
A recent scholarly article asserts Seasonal Affective Disorder is a "folk theory." At first, this was a blow to my (rather large) ego, but then I decided it was good for business.

Do Vitamins Have Placebo Effects?

By Nigel Barber Ph.D. on February 11, 2016 The Human Beast
After years of hearing that vitamin supplementation was protective of health, we are now hearing that they are a waste of money for people with an adequate diet.

Combining Aerobic Exercise and Meditation Reduces Depression

A new study reports that the combination of doing focused meditation and aerobic exercise back-to-back reduces depression, rumination, and overwhelming negative thoughts.

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By Kira Asatryan on February 10, 2016 The Art of Closeness
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Faded Glory: What Can We Learn From the Formerly Famous?

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Sneaky SAD

By Michael Terman Ph.D. on February 10, 2016 Chronotherapy
I thought I was going to skip a year of SAD in November of 2015. I was feeling symptom-free! But I didn't count on a gradual onset, one stealthy symptom at a time.

Rorie Hutter on Innisfree Village

The Future of Mental Health interview series continues with Rorie Hutter on Innisfree Village.

Traveling Light

By Michael Terman Ph.D. on February 10, 2016 Chronotherapy
A clinical social worker with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) explains why she packed her light box to attend a weekend family event out of town.

Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Psychosis

This public health measure is well meaning. Good enough maternal love ought to be the highest value in our society. In practice this means the destructive use of antidepressants.

Maybe It’s Harder to Kill Yourself Than You Picture

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Terrorism, Suicide, and Our National Priorities

The facts about suicide and terrorism should spark a national conversation about our priorities.

Therapy Dogs or Robots for Nursing Home Residents?

By Hal Herzog Ph.D. on February 09, 2016 Animals and Us
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Jerod McBrayer’s Stinging Truth

By Michael Friedman Ph.D. on February 09, 2016 Brick by Brick
Jerod McBrayer shares his experience with mental illness and the reasoning behind his band's new album, which reflects a 12-Step recovery program.

The “Airbag” of Depersonalization: Shield or Disorder?

By Elena Bezzubova on February 09, 2016 The Search for Self
The painful experience of unreality safeguards from a danger.

If Depression Were an Infection

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Claudia Gold on The Silenced Child

the future of mental health interview series continues with Claudia Gold on The Silenced Child.

Robert Stolorow on Emotional Trauma and Psychoanalysis

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Depression in Children

What are the risk factors for childhood depression and how can it be treated?

Gayle Flanigan on Rose Hill Center

The future of mental health interview series continues with Gayle Flanigan on Rose Hill Center.

Mindfulness Meditation and the Vagus Nerve Share Many Powers

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Adolescents and Depression — Part 2

Here's what you need to know about diagnosing depression in your teen clients.

Robert Salvit on Kabbalah and Spiritual Healing

The future of mental health interview series continues with Robert Salvit on Kabbalah and spiritual healing.

The Best Kept Secret to Energy Management—Backed by Science

By Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D. on February 04, 2016 Feeling It
Work hard, play hard? Think again, data shows. Why living life in the fast lane can slow you down, and what to do instead.

9 Relaxation Techniques to Cope with Depression

Depression is a condition that makes you feel unenthusiastic toward life. Here are 9 techniques to combat depression.