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 professor's advice for students and parents.

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Hope Versus Depression

By Mario D Garrett Ph.D. on September 24, 2017 in iAge
Could depression benefit from viewing hope as an illusion, and that depression reflects the reality of life? Could depression be a sense of realism closer to the truth?
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By Sue Scheff on September 24, 2017 in Shame Nation
Teens are more concerned about online hate and shaming than they are about drugs. They are more likely to turn to their friends for help, rather than their parents.

B Vitamins Play Important Roles in Mental Health Care

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What Steals Our Sense of Humor?

By Anneli Rufus on September 22, 2017 in Stuck
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The Power of Wake

By David Hellerstein M.D. on September 22, 2017 in Heal Your Brain
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Department of Veteran Services

Challenges In Veteran Mental Health Care:

By Michael B. Brennan PsyD on September 22, 2017 in The War Within
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By Kimberly Sena Moore Ph.D. on September 22, 2017 in Your Musical Self
How does music make us feel? Research helps explain how the structure of music itself can be arranged to express emotions.

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By Rita Watson MPH on September 21, 2017 in With Love and Gratitude
Football players with repetitive injuries can experience aggressive behavior, depression, eventual dementia, and even suicide.
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Your Teen Needs More Sleep

By Michael J Breus Ph.D. on September 21, 2017 in Sleep Newzzz
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For many, sunny days may seem a distant memory regardless of season … or sun.

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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.
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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.
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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

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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.

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

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Copper Toxicity: A Common Cause of Psychiatric Symptoms

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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
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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.
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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.