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 diet, both directly—through the nutrients we consume, such as omega-3 fats—and indirectly, through the composition of the bacteria in the gut. 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 repetitive negative rumination, 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 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. In addition, evidence is quickly accumulating that regular mindfulness meditation, on its own or combined with cognitive therapy, can stop depression before it starts by effectively disengaging attention from the repetitive negative thoughts that often set in motion the downward spiral of mood.

Recent posts on Depression

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A Pledge to My Postpartum Self

I will not surrender to the pressure from others or from myself to pretend I am okay if I am worried about the way I am feeling or thinking.

Favorable Trajectories

By Peter D Kramer on May 27, 2016 in In Practice
How distinctive are antidepressants? Answers from research that looks at progress made by individual patients.

Depression: 7 Powerful Tips to Help You Overcome Bad Moods

Are you concerned about feelings of depression? A few actions daily can greatly improve your mood.

Forming Categories of Experience

Using the depressed tendency of rumination to strengthen networks of positive experience can act as a natural antidepressant.

Jon Mills Finds His Answers

Jon Mills was put on this earth to pursue his athletic goals and to help people do the same. But it took a long time for Mills to find his purpose...

City Life and Mental Illness

Does the impact of living in disadvantaged neighborhoods last forever?

Love Is Not Constant or Consistent

I know it’s scary to love like you’re not going to get hurt, but it’s the only way to get the goodies from the most wonderful of emotions.

How Healthy Are You? Take this 10 Second Quiz

A quiz that leads you to 10 steps to better health

How Depression Can Move On

The new coming out is coming out about struggles with depression. Here, Judy realizes that depression can lead to empathy, past trauma, & even make you funnier.. Read on

Why Are More Young Girls Killing Themselves?

Suicide rates have tripled among 10 to 14 year old girls during the last 15 years. What is going on? Several possible factors underlie this disturbing trend.

The Unconditional Love of Chonda Pierce

On the one hand, Pierce, the “Queen of Clean,” makes a successful living from laughter. On the other hand, Pierce has lived through years of tremendous sadness and tragedy...

4 Ways to Survive Unexpected Situations

Life throws unexpected things at us all the time. The four tips will help you survive unexpected stress—and maybe even come out ahead.

The Myth of Being Unlovable, Part 1

When we are feeling unloved, our mind makes up a story about how unlovable we are, filling in details about our supposed faults.
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Mastering Life's Transitions

Transitions from one chapter of our lives to the next can be a challenge. The key is to step back, think big picture, move forward, and have realistic expectations. Some tips.

Using Brain Scans to Diagnose Mental Disorders

Some clinics are using brain imaging (especially SPECT) for diagnosing psychological conditions like ADHD and depression, but there's little science to support this use.

Thorough Recovery From Depression

By Peter D Kramer on May 19, 2016 in In Practice
Treating depression, clinicians aim for very thorough responses—few remaining symptoms. A current study finds that, compared to psychotherapy, medication more often does that job.

Mental Health Initiatives for Athletes Still Lacking

Sports psychology often targets improved performance, not mental health

Is the Epidemic of Teenage Suicide Caused by Depression?

Today, the chatter on personal devices is about depression, sometimes about suicidal thoughts. Young girls in particular are batting this stuff about on Facebook, and acting on it.

Is Joy Communal?

By Nigel Barber Ph.D. on May 18, 2016 in The Human Beast
The epidemic of depression that emerged with urbanization in the US is often attributed to loneliness in large cities. Perhaps it is also due to less opportunities to express joy.
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Depression Does Not Define You

By Susan Noonan MD on May 18, 2016 in View From the Mist
Is it me or my depression?

Black Women and Postpartum Depression

Black women face a formidable stereotype when it comes to mental health: the myth of the black "superwoman." Here's how to break through it and feel better.

Are You Stressed Out and Exhausted?

Stress truly is the disease of the 21st century. Stress can affect all areas of our lives and yet most of us take stress for granted.

Focus on Older Adults: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May 16 - 22 is Older Adult Mental Health Week. Depression, elder abuse and substance abuse/addiction are compromising the health and well-being of our older adult population.
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The Power of Positive Self-Talk

One of the ways to recognize, promote, and sustain optimism, hope, and joy is to intentionally fill our thoughts with positive self-talk.

Do We Have Any Control Over Depression?

In Part 3 of this epic downer of a comic dealing with a depression that makes Kafka look cheery, we find out if one can control depression by doing good deeds. Read on...

A New Medication on the Horizon for Depression

We are still a long way from having a fast-relief drug for depression that is safe for human use. But while we wait, you are not without options.

When Bad is Good for You

By Tania Luna on May 15, 2016 in Surprise!
The approaches you use to make yourself feel better might be causing you to feel worse.

Is Heat an Antidepressant?

Before psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, there was a third therapeutic tradition in psychiatry--and it involved heat. And it was very successful.

The Effort to Rid TV of Pharma Ads

By Christopher Lane Ph.D. on May 15, 2016 in Side Effects
The average American TV viewer is exposed to up to 30 hours of prescription drug ads each year. Enough already.

5 Tips for Dating Someone Who Struggles With Depression

By Caitlin Cantor LCSW, CST on May 12, 2016 in Modern Sex
It’s painful to watch someone you care about suffer. Learn how to support your partner in their suffering, and foster connection and closeness.