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

Are You Happy With Your Character Resume?

By Clifford N Lazarus Ph.D. on July 26, 2017 in Think Well
A lot of people place excessive importance on material "success." They use money, things, and achievements as their metrics of choice. Here's why many of them are unhappy.
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Staying In the Game

By Susan Noonan MD on July 26, 2017 in View From the Mist
What it takes to not give up - the pros and cons of just staying in the game
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The Effect of Stress from Childhood Abuse

Fear, uncertainty, anger, and frustration can be the by-products of abuse that don’t fade but instead build over time. A person in constant stress mode sees danger everywhere.

A Digital Therapist to Treat Depression?

We’re glimpsing the possibility of face-to-face therapy being replaced by virtual, tech-based modalities.
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If I Just Won the Lottery, Life Would Be So Much Better

Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

A Possible New Treatment for Post-Partum Depression

A neuroactive steroid whose levels increase dramatically during pregnancy and then fall rapidly after delivery is reported to be effective in treating post-partum depression.

Cortisol: Harvard Study Finds "Moderate-response" May Be Key

Contrary to popular belief, a new study reports that "too much" or "too little" cortisol both indicate a maladaptive response to stressful experiences.

Hemp: A Recipe for Brain Health

Two best recipes for daily enjoyment and benefit.
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Social Signaling

By Thomas Lynch Ph.D. on July 24, 2017 in Radically Open
Chronically depressed? Pay attention to your social signaling.

The Mental Health Crisis is upon the Internet Generation

College-Aged students are undergoing nothing less than an all-out crisis in terms of mental health issues. Perhaps being raised with cell phones is part of the problem. Here's why.

Psychological Gifts You Can Give Yourself Over The Summer

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Stressed or Distressed: Either Way It Matters to Depression

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I Need Help With My Stepmother

How to deal with a new stepmother.

What Business Are Therapists (Really) In?

Is your therapist doing therapy?

Help! My Antidepressants Aren’t Working

Are your antidepressants not working? Adding talk therapy may help.
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Is Authentic Suffering the Missing Link?

Authentic suffering is that which is obscured by what she wants us to know and what she will let us see.

Five Tools That Help Women Accept a Mental Health Problem

Wondering what tools help women accept a mental health problem? Women's resilience is manifold.

Will Social Prescribing Be the Next Wellness Phenomenon?

"Social prescribing" is a relatively new non-medical approach to psychological, physical, and financial well-being that has the potential to dramatically improve people's lives.

Anxious? Worry a Lot? Here’s How It Can Be Good For You!

Feeling anxious and worried can increase your motivation and action for dealing with problems and decisions. Research shows how.

Yoga Can Slow Effects of Stress and Aging, Studies Suggest

By Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D. on July 14, 2017 in Urban Survival
New research suggests that doing yoga regularly can help reduce the harmful effects of stress and aging on the body.

The Optimism Challenge: Specific Strategies

By David Dillard-Wright Ph.D. on July 14, 2017 in Boundless
Here are a few strategies for moving into a more optimistic frame of mind.
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Suicide: Pacts Versus Clusters

Suicide pacts are agreements; suicide clusters are reactions. But clusters can result from publicized pacts.

Have You Been Infected by Other People's Emotions?

Are other people's emotions contagious? The powerful effect of social contagion.

The Energy Vampires That Stop You from Thriving

Conquer the energy vampires that are stealing your life.

Depression Is Too Common to Ignore

By William R. Klemm Ph.D. on July 13, 2017 in Memory Medic
Recent research emphasizes the importance of memory as therapy for depression.
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The Crisis of Meaning

Now is the time to address the crisis of meaning in life, work, and society.

How to Know When to Take a Mental Health Day

Taking a day off from work to care for your mental health could be instrumental in helping you feel at your best.

The Optimism Challenge

By David Dillard-Wright Ph.D. on July 11, 2017 in Boundless
Can you become an optimist through deliberate practice? Try it and see.