What is Depression?

Major Depressive Disorder, commonly known as “depression,” is a mood disorder that affects an estimated 322 million people annually. In the United States, about 15 percent of people live with depression at some point in their lives. This serious disorder typically causes symptoms such as low mood, fatigue, and hopelessness. You may also hear people call this disorder major depression or clinical depression.

Each person who lives with depression has a unique experience. The severity of depression that a person can experience can range from mild to fatal. Furthermore, depression can last a few months, years, or decades. Perhaps the most important factor in determining the severity and length of time depression lasts is whether a person gets the social and professional support they need.

Clinical Depression vs. Healthy Sadness

Feeling down or sad is a normal part of the human experience. When something upsetting happens, a low mood is sometimes a sign that a person is emotionally healthy and reacting appropriately. However, depression is a debilitating disorder that can seriously impact a person’s life. How are people supposed to tell the difference?

The most significant difference is whether someone is able to go about life as normal. Someone with depression finds it difficult or even impossible to carry out daily tasks. In some cases, daily hygiene, getting out of bed, or eating a meal can feel impossible for weeks at a time.

Mental health care providers may diagnose someone with depression if the patient experiences:

  • At least five primary depression symptoms
  • Daily or almost daily
  • For at least two weeks

This criterion helps distinguish depression from healthy sadness.

Primary Symptoms of Depression

The diagnostic criterion for depression specifies that a person must experience at least five of the primary symptoms. But what exact symptoms are clinicians looking for? While depression can look different for everyone, it typically involves at least five of the following signs:

  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Feeling worthless or unnecessarily guilty
  • Fatigue
  • Sadness, emotional emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Sleeping much more or less than usual
  • Sudden disinterest in hobbies or activities
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

If you or someone you love has thoughts of suicide, seek emergency care. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. 

Treatment Options for Depression

There is currently no cure for depression, but effective treatments can help people manage symptoms and break through the darkness. Each person reacts to treatment differently, and what’s right for one person may not work for another. In general, there are three types of depression treatments:

  • Medication
  • Therapy
  • Lifestyle Changes

Each of these broad categories contains several options. Furthermore, many patients combine one or more styles of treatment to find relief. Our expert mental health care providers can create a personalized care plan based on your needs.