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

Can Ketamine Help Suicidal Children?

By Jack Turban MD MHS on December 12, 2017 in Political Minds
Early research suggests that the psychedelic drug ketamine may help suicidal children, but are there risks?

The Burdens Posed by Invisible Physical and Mental Illnesses

By Toni Bernhard J.D. on December 12, 2017 in Turning Straw Into Gold
I look healthy. My friend, whom I’ll call Gail, also looks healthy. The difference is that I suffer from a physical illness and she suffers from a mental illness: depression.

Exposure to Heat Can Improve Mental Well-Being

Are you dreading being alone this holiday season? Schedule in some hot baths.

Our Youth Deserve Better

By J. Wesley Boyd M.D., Ph.D. on December 11, 2017 in Almost Addicted
Transition-age youth (age 18-25) are at high risk for mental health, physical health, and substance use problems, yet they are falling through the cracks due to the lack of service

Advantages of E-Therapy Over Conventional Therapy

By Dawn Kingston Ph.D. on December 11, 2017 in The Pregnant Pause
The research is growing for the effectiveness of online psychotherapy. Not only is it as effective as conventional, face-to-face therapy, it can be more affordable and accessible.

Are We Taking Concussions Too Seriously?

By Harry Kerasidis M.D. on December 11, 2017 in Brain Trauma
Taking "a hard hit" is a sign of toughness. But is pulling yourself out of action still seen as "weakness?" Dr. Harry Kerasidis explains why concussions deserve our attention.

A Possible New Treatment for Bipolar Depression

A six-week course of bright light therapy administered midday led to substantial improvement in 68 percent of persons with depressive symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.

Triumph or Tragedy: How You Tell Your Story Matters

While making mistakes is not an especially pleasurable experience, when people become depressed, it is usually because they mistake difficult chapters for the entire plotline. They also under-value the important lessons that come from harder chapters which, if we read them correctly, can help us move on to happier ones.
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Study Suggests Patients Can Treat Depression on Their Own

In general, the participants expressed higher life satisfaction and self-efficiency.

Exercise for Depression, Dementia, and Anxiety

Research findings show that regular exercise improves depressed mood, reduces anxiety, and reduces the risk of dementia.

What We Know About the Holiday Blues

The holiday blues are a real phenomenon, but they are likely to have different effects than you might think.

Climate Change Affecting Farmers' Mental Health

By Robert T Muller Ph.D. on December 07, 2017 in Talking About Trauma
As the temperatures increase, so do the mental health risks among farmers.

Four Practical Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Students

By Tim Elmore on December 07, 2017 in Artificial Maturity
Teens today have the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient did in the 1950s. Find out the four ways you can help these young adults develop self-esteem.

How Culture Affects Depression

By Marianna Pogosyan Ph.D. on December 06, 2017 in Between Cultures
The meaning and symptoms of depression can vary around the world. So can the ways people cope with it.
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How to Handle the Holidays When You Have Hearing Loss

By Shari Eberts on December 06, 2017 in Life With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can make the holidays tricky, but there is no need to miss out on all the fun. Follow these tips and enjoy a festive and joyful holiday season.

Maintaining Positivity in Difficult Times

By David Dillard-Wright Ph.D. on December 05, 2017 in Boundless
Having a bad day or a bad season? Check out these media links.

9 Tips for Getting Better Sleep While Pregnant

By Dawn Kingston Ph.D. on December 04, 2017 in The Pregnant Pause
One of the biggest challenges in pregnancy is getting a good night's sleep. Getting solid rest is one of the best strategies to protect mother and baby.

Helping Your College Student Cope with a Grandparent's Death

By Marcia Morris M.D. on December 03, 2017 in College Wellness
A grandparent’s death can pose challenges for a college student, but with your support and campus resources, your student can learn to cope.

Feeling Bad?

By Jeff Corbin, MD MPH on December 01, 2017 in Rethinking Normal
Positive and negative emotions — we all have them. Here's why.

One Size Rarely Fits All

By Elliot T Berkman Ph.D. on December 01, 2017 in The Motivated Brain
Treatments are designed for groups, not people. How can we make them more precise?

Sunlight Is the Best Medicine

By Michael Terman Ph.D. on December 01, 2017 in Chronotherapy
Justice Brandeis remarked, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” It also helps cure people, as first observed in tuberculosis patients. It targets depression, too.

Beyond the Casting Couch - Part 2

If you are a sexual assault survivor, be aware that repeated exposure to the media's news stories is probably not in your best interest.

How Dangerous Is a Broken Heart?

By Romeo Vitelli Ph.D. on November 30, 2017 in Media Spotlight
Are people dealing with a romantic breakup more prone to depression and suicide? New research examines the short-term dangers of relationship loss.

It Ain't About How Hard You Hit

By Elena Blanco-Suarez Ph.D. on November 30, 2017 in Brain Chemistry
What is going on in the brain when a fighter gets punched or kicked in the head? Ex-UFC fighter Shannon Gugerty talks about his own experience.

Your Most Powerful Tool Against Postpartum Depression

By Dawn Kingston Ph.D. on November 29, 2017 in The Pregnant Pause
Getting enough sleep during pregnancy may be your most powerful tool in warding off postpartum depression.

DHEA Improves Depressed Mood But Not Cognitive Functioning

Have you read about DHEA for depressed mood or cognitive problems? There are positive findings for depression but most studies on cognitive decline and dementia are inconclusive.

Frazzled: High Anxiety and Low Frustration Tolerance

By Linda Esposito LCSW on November 28, 2017 in From Anxiety to Zen
Are you sick and tired of over-reacting to everything? Get curious about your behavioral patterns and get over your fly-off-the-handle ways.
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What You Can Expect From an Authoritarian, Part 3

Based on Dr. Maisel's primary research on authoritarian wounding, learn what you can expect from authoritarian contact and how you can heal the wounds inflicted by that contact.

Happy New Year!

By David Dillard-Wright Ph.D. on November 26, 2017 in Boundless
Want those New Year's resolutions to stick? Get started early.

Death In Our Hands?

The internet has become the modern piazza, but at what cost?