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

Daniel Peters

Waitin’ on a Sunny Day

By Stephen Gray Wallace on September 21, 2017 in Decisions Teens Make
For many, sunny days may seem a distant memory regardless of season … or sun.

Quantitative Electroencephalography in Mental Health Care

Are you looking for a more advanced approach that can help you evaluate abnormal brain activity in OCD, depressed mood, or bipolar disorder? QEEG brain wave analysis could help.
Kirisa99 /bigstock

Sharing Decisions with Your Clinician

By Susan Noonan MD on September 19, 2017 in View From the Mist
Be a member of your own treatment team.

Rewire Your Burned-Out Brain

By Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed. on September 18, 2017 in Radical Teaching
You can rewire your brain to reverse burnout symptoms and boost your optimism, pleasure, and positive expectations.
tomwang / 123RF Stock Photo

When Trust Is Gone, What Can You Do?

By F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W. on September 17, 2017 in Off the Couch
We live in a time when everyone is talking about trust and no one seems to be feeling much of it. Here's what you can do when you no longer trust.

Hillary Clinton Is Doing Pranayama

Alternate nostril breathing is good for PTSD and mental health.

Answer Me This: Why Are Americans So Depressed?

By Stanton Peele Ph.D. on September 14, 2017 in Addiction in Society
We are growing more depressed, with young people in the lead, and our pharmaceutical response is obviously not working. How about psychedelics?

Playing Hurt

By Michael W. Austin Ph.D. on September 14, 2017 in Ethics for Everyone
A vulnerable and inspiring story from sportscaster John Saunders.

5 Simple Steps for Suicide Prevention

This week, National Suicide Prevention Week, it seems particularly appropriate to talk about both the good and the evidence-based.

What Does It Take to Survive Emotionally After a Disaster?

Disasters bring out a variety of emotional reactions. New research shows the importance of dealing with your basic emotions in order to insure your long-term emotional survival.
Judy Tsafrir, MD

Copper Toxicity: A Common Cause of Psychiatric Symptoms

By Judy Tsafrir M.D. on September 11, 2017 in Holistic Psychiatry
Could copper overload be the cause of your depression, anxiety, ADHD, and poor immune function? Copper toxicity is a treatable condition, but you must identify it first.
LoriNewman/USarmy/WikimediaCommons

What Suicide Survivors Want You to Know

Parents and loved ones of those who have died by suicide share their personal stories. Learn some of the warning signs and how you can help.
Ryan McGuire/Gratisography

16 Tons

By Elizabeth Young on September 11, 2017 in Adaptations
I see in Annie's eyes the fear of a personal apocalypse.

The World Isn’t Designed Well for People With Bipolar

By Elizabeth Brondolo Ph.D. on September 11, 2017 in Take Control
How can we better engineer products to help people with bipolar disorder?

Bipolar Disorder and Expectations About the Future

By Elizabeth Brondolo Ph.D. on September 10, 2017 in Take Control
I thought I could handle things, but bipolar really interferes.

The Flight Attendant Said My Leg Was Going to Fall Off

Medical advice should make people feel better, but it's easy to make them feel worse, by only paying attention to what you say, not what they hear.
K. Ramsland

Suicide Shrines

By Katherine Ramsland Ph.D. on September 10, 2017 in Shadow Boxing
Some locations or events can inspire numerous life-ending acts. The allure might be obvious or obscure.

Does Your Child Have Enough Friends?

By Michael Ungar Ph.D. on September 10, 2017 in Nurturing Resilience
Some children are shy and happy to be alone. Many others struggle to make friends and are at risk for depression. Parents can teach children what they need to be more social.

Are You Giving Yourself the Level of Self-Care You Deserve?

By Gregg McBride on September 09, 2017 in The Weight-ing Game
When we care for something, it thrives. When we shun it, it withers. Therefore, isn't it time we stop mentally knocking ourselves down when we think of goals we haven't yet met?

4 Ways Culture Impacts Acceptance of Mental Health Problems

By Lauren Mizock Ph.D. on September 08, 2017 in Cultural Competence
Four cultural factors that impact the process of acceptance of a mental health problem.

College, 2017 to 2018

The arrival of the smartphone has changed every aspect of teenage life, from social interactions to mental health. It's time for colleges to change their approach as well.
Fotolia_4375731_XS copy

Your Set Point for Happiness

By Robert Puff Ph.D. on September 08, 2017 in Meditation for Modern Life
No matter what life throws at us, over time our happiness tends to bounce back to the same point.

3 Times a Mental Health Day Could Do More Harm Than Good

A day off from work won't automatically improve your mental health. It's what you do with that time that matters.

Want to Feel More Upbeat? Here Are 8 Natural Antidepressants

By Susan Heitler Ph.D. on September 07, 2017 in Resolution, Not Conflict
Try this formula to ease mild to moderate depressed moods.

Depression and Loneliness Linked to Higher Mortality Rates

By Barton Goldsmith Ph.D. on September 07, 2017 in Emotional Fitness
Over 40 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with depression, and I am sure the real number is higher, the number of people coping with loneliness is unknown.
123rf/laurast

The Contamination of Motherhood?

Depending on one’s frame of reference, mothers could, conceivably, be taking on way too much responsibility for things that may be largely out of their control.

Dancing Away the Blues

There's evidence supporting your need to sway.

What Black Women Need to Know About Eating Disorders

By Carolyn C. Ross M.D., M.P.H. on September 04, 2017 in Real Healing
Eating disorders have long been seen as problems primarily affecting white women. That's because they too often go undetected and untreated in black women.

Walking in Rhythm

By Dean Olsher MS, MT-BC, LCAT on September 04, 2017 in A Sound Mind
How will you spend your next hour of free time? You can lie on the couch and stare at Facebook or take an extended walk. Which choice do you think is better for your mood?

I'm Not Sure If I Should Break Up With My Girlfriend

By Barbara Greenberg Ph.D. on September 04, 2017 in The Teen Doctor
How To Handle A Relationship With A Depressed Partner