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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Wanting Is a Trap

So are you telling me to stop wanting?

Thinking Errors in Depression

By Neel Burton M.D. on December 02, 2016 in Hide and Seek
7 common thinking errors and how to correct them.
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Surviving the Chaos of Simultaneous Depression and Mania

By Susan Noonan MD on December 02, 2016 in View From the Mist
How to deal with the “storms” in your head when two extremes collide

A Self-Esteem Manifesto

As invisible and alone as you may feel, take this opportunity to declare, first to yourself and then to others, that you are committed to becoming fully engaged in life.

A Philosophy of Depression

By Neel Burton M.D. on December 02, 2016 in Hide and Seek
Unlike heart disease or diabetes, depression is poorly understood and heavily stigmatized.
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Surfing Your Brain: Know Which Brain Is Talking

By Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W. on December 01, 2016 in Fixing Families
Your brain goes in and out of its rational state many times over the day. The key to successfully surfing your brain is recognizing what state you are in and taking action.

Amish Asthma Rates Offer Clues to Preventing Mental Illness

By Eric Haseltine Ph.D. on December 01, 2016 in Long Fuse, Big Bang
New evidence that healthy bodies promote healthy minds

Trauma Documented Three Decades After Chernobyl Disaster

By Robert T Muller Ph.D. on December 01, 2016 in Talking About Trauma
To this day, those affected by the explosion continue to struggle, living in fear of long-lasting consequences such as birth defects and contaminated foods.

Workaholism and Psychiatric Disorders

By Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. on December 01, 2016 in In Excess
There has been an increasing amount of research into workaholism but was is the relationship between work addiction, ADHD, OCD and depressions?

Pet Ownership Impact on Well-being Depends on Marital Status

By Roni Beth Tower Ph.D., ABPP on November 30, 2016 in Life, Refracted
Pet ownership is unrelated to well-being in married Americans. Single women benefit from a pet; single men appear burdened by one, regardless of age, education, income and kids.

Bad Work Meetings? Do This One Thing: Walk the Walk

By Karlyn Crowley Ph.D. on November 30, 2016 in Woman Power
Endless meetings make you want to quit your job? Try this instead.

Emotionally Abusive Relationships, Part Two

Think you're in an emotionally abusive relationship? Understand the dynamics of emotional abuse.

3 Holiday Depression Myths

Winter holidays may coincide with mood disorders, but are they linked to suicide?

Too Much Self-Esteem May Be Keeping Millennials Single

By Caitlin Cantor LCSW, CST on November 29, 2016 in Modern Sex
If you're a Millennial, you may be more skilled at being alone than you are in relationships. Learn the relational skills you missed if you grew up during the self-esteem movement.

Electro-Cures Largely Unproven

By Temma Ehrenfeld on November 29, 2016 in Open Gently
Electro-cures for depression are largely unproven, but may give you hope, which is not nothing.
Copyright, Fredric Neuman M.D.

An Odd Suicide

By Fredric Neuman M.D. on November 28, 2016 in Fighting Fear
A major depression can overcome someone within a matter of days. Suicide, which is sometimes a consequence of such an illness, can occur seemingly for no reason, suddenly.
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Putting a Smile on Your Face

If you are tired of being down and dragging yourself through the day, try one of these 6 things to increase your happiness.

No Partner, No Worries: New Study of Psychological Health

By Bella DePaulo Ph.D. on November 27, 2016 in Living Single
The authors predicted a hierarchy of well-being, with married people at the top, then cohabiters, then daters, with unpartnered singles at the bottom. That’s not what they found.

Can You Spice Up Your Antidepressant?

Is curcumin the next supplement to take psychiatry by storm? Not yet, but there's some promising data so far.

Should Assisted Suicide Be Available to Everyone?

By Marty Nemko Ph.D. on November 27, 2016 in How To Do Life
Suicide tourism to Switzerland has doubled. Understandably.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We are living in trying times, largely due to the unprecedented, most contentious presidential election in our nation's history. What can we do to move on? How can we help?
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4 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Depression

By Jennifer Rollin MSW, LGSW on November 26, 2016 in Mindful Musings
These common statements can do more harm then good for someone dealing with depression.

Fall Back in Love by Doing This!

Falling back in love comes easily when you clear out your toxic thoughts. Here is how to do it.

Face-to-Face Social Participation Nourishes Quality of Life

By Christopher Bergland on November 24, 2016 in The Athlete's Way
New research suggests that it wouldn't be such a bad idea to practice the core values of Thanksgiving—gratitude and social connectedness—365 days a year.

Taking a Deeper Look at the "Negative Person"

By Carrie Barron M.D. on November 24, 2016 in The Creativity Cure
The person who is labeled "negative" may actually be sad.

The 3 Questions Parents Should Ask Their Children

By Michael Karson Ph.D., J.D. on November 23, 2016 in Feeling Our Way
The smart move is to say to your children what you want them to learn to say to themselves.

Emotionally Abusive Relationships - Part One

Although emotional abuse can be subtle, the impact is profound and can create intense self-doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, and depression.
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Holiday Expectations and Stress

By Susan Noonan MD on November 22, 2016 in View From the Mist
Overwhelmed by the thought of the upcoming holidays?

Mindfulness Quiets Unhelpful Thoughts

By Marlynn Wei M.D., J.D. on November 21, 2016 in Urban Survival
A new study finds that mindfulness helps people with depression think more clearly and pay less attention to negative, irrelevant thoughts.

4 Ways You Can Start Treating Yourself Better Today

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on November 21, 2016 in Think, Act, Be
It can be frustratingly hard to change negative feelings about ourselves. Instead of focusing on your feelings, start with your behavior.