What is Major Depression?

Depression is a type of mood disorder that affects 322 million people around the globe, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Although it affects each person differently, depression generally causes feelings of hopelessness and loss of interest in daily life. Some professionals and others call it “clinical depression” or “depressive disorder.” These are all different names for the same disorder.

The severity of depression can range from mild to severe, with some cases being fatal through suicide. Unfortunately, depression remains relatively common in the United States. In fact, nearly seven percent of American adults experience depression in a given year, and about 15 percent will live with the disorder at some point in their lives.

People who believe they or someone they love may suffer from depression should learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments. Most importantly, everyone should know that depression is serious and that proper treatment can help.

Clinical Depression vs. the Blues

Low and sad moods are typical parts of the human experience. In fact, feeling upset about life events and stressors can be a sign that a person is mentally healthy. Depression is more than a temporary bad mood.

Whereas a case of the blues can make life hard for a day or two, depression makes it difficult or impossible for people to carry out daily tasks. Depending on the severity, patients may feel unable to complete even hygiene routines or get out of bed. In other cases, patients can achieve only the most basic tasks, but struggle to do things they once enjoyed.

Psychology professionals diagnose depression when a person experiences five or more of the main symptoms almost every day for at least two weeks. That’s why it’s important for people to know the signs of depression.

What Does Depression Look Like?

The exact symptoms of depression vary among patients. Even the same patient can exhibit new depressive symptoms with each new case of the disorder. However, the following signs are fairly common and used as part of the diagnostic process:

  • Significant changes in weight
  • Sad, empty, or hopeless feelings
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Disinterest in hobbies or activities that once brought joy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating on work, school, or conversations with others
  • Believing that one is worthless or feeling unnecessary guilt
  • Obsessive thoughts about death or suicide

If you or someone you love experiences thoughts of suicide, seek emergency care. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. You can also go to an OBH facility to get the attention you need.

Why Do People Develop Depression?

Unfortunately, there is not one single answer to this question. Researchers have found that several different factors can cause depression. It’s not always clear which possible cause of depression affects any given patient. In some people, several different problems may lead to this mood disorder.

While understanding the possible causes of depression can help, it’s best for individuals to speak with mental health professionals to help discover the cause(s) of their mood disorders. A personalized approach is vital for depression.

Traumatic or Stressful Situations

The most obvious causes of depression are negative life events. These traumas include the death of a loved one, facing a serious illness, or financial troubles. Sometimes the depression comes on directly after an event occurs, such as with the death of a loved one.

Other times, people suffer from depression years after a traumatic event, such as abuse in childhood. These causes may be less evident at first, but therapy can help uncover and treat them.

People can experience depression in reaction to chronic stressors in life as well.

Underlying Conditions

Some problems with physical health can cause depression, especially when left untreated. For example, depression is a symptom of several autoimmune diseases. It can also be a part of a broader mental health problem, such as eating disorders or substance abuse.

On the other side of the coin, certain medications can cause depression as well. Some studies have found that corticosteroids and specific anti-virals can increase a patient’s risk of developing depression. Certain mental health medications can also worsen symptoms, which is why mental health professionals keep close watches on patients who start new treatments.


Patients with family histories of depression often wonder, “Is depression genetic?” They worry that because a parent suffered from the disorder, they will as well. The research on the inheritance of depression is unclear.

People who have a first-degree family member (biological sibling or parent) with depression are between two and three times more likely to develop the disorder than those who do not have such a connection. However, many people have such family connections and never develop depression, and some people do not have such family histories and still have it. Furthermore, the relationship could be more about shared lifestyle factors than genes.


All moods, good and bad, come down to the biochemistry in our brains. Harvard Health estimates that people experience billions of chemical reactions in their bodies each day.

Sometimes, something in a person’s life causes these reactions to imbalance, which creates depression symptoms. Other times, the imbalance begins with no known cause. This means that patients can experience depression even without obvious personal problems, underlying conditions, or medications.

Does Depression Go Away?

There is no single cure for depression. However, patients with this disorder can seek treatment and reduce their symptoms. Some people put their depression into remission.

A whopping 80 percent of patients who seek treatment improve within just four to six weeks. Unfortunately, the symptoms of depression can actually keep people from seeking help. Only about 41 percent of adults with mental illnesses seek treatment.

End the Stigma to Treat Depression

The first step to treating depression is to burst the stigma surrounding depression. Patients with this mood disorder (or any other) deserve the same high-quality care as patients with physical illnesses. If you would go to the doctor for a broken leg, you should also seek care when your mind is not at its best.

Secondly, people must know when to seek treatment and what kinds of professionals to find.

Seek Emergency Care

This message bears repeating.

If you or someone you love has thoughts of suicide, seek immediate medical attention. People who believe they may hurt someone else should also find emergency care. You can get care at:

  • The nearest emergency room
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • The Crisis Text Line: text CONNECT to 741741

See a Therapist or Counselor

Anyone who experiences the symptoms of depression should seek treatment from a therapist. These professionals use several talk therapy methods to help patients:

A therapist may also recommend that you see a psychiatrist, if necessary.

See a Psychiatrist

While therapists provide non-medical interventions, psychiatrists are medically trained doctors who specialize in mental health. Like therapists and psychologists, these mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) to diagnose patients with emotional and developmental disorders.

The difference comes in how psychiatrists can treat patients. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication, including antidepressants. In some cases, these professionals perform other interventions, such as electroconvulsive therapy.

Some psychiatrists also use talk therapies, but others do not. Be sure to ask your provider what to expect before your appointment.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Depression, like other serious illnesses, requires some sort of medical intervention. However, lifestyle changes can help in addition to treatment plans. If you suffer from depression, the following methods may provide some relief:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat nutritious foods and balanced meals
  • Avoid substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
  • Get about eight hours of sleep every night
  • Seek emotional support from loved ones

Therapists can recommend more specific ways for patients to tackle these changes.

Are Manic Depression and Bipolar Disorder the Same?

People with bipolar disorder experience periods of depression with the same symptoms described above. However, those patients also experience bouts of mania in which they feel elated. In these periods, people with bipolar disorder make rash decisions, such as gambling or spending too much money. This is why some people call bipolar disorder “manic depression” or “bipolar depression.”
Patients with clinical depression do not have these manic periods. Instead, they only feel the lows. Some people call clinical depression “unipolar depression” to distinguish it from bipolar disorder.