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

A New Way to Understand the Narcissistic Male

Pathologically narcissistic men often engage in high-risk behaviors, aggression and substance abuse. New research focuses on their feelings of distress and need for treatment.

5 Ways the Change of Seasons Might Affect Your Mental Health

Seasonal changes may impact your mood. What do you need to know and what can you do about it?

Get Your Teen Off the Phone

By Temma Ehrenfeld on October 19, 2017 in Open Gently
Therapy, sleep, exercise, and socializing in person may be more likely to help your depressed teen than an antidepressant.

When a Sibling Dies by Suicide

Samantha recounts the grief she experienced after losing her brother to suicide.

St. John's Wort for Depressed Mood?

Considering trying St. John's wort for your problem with depressed mood? Some people respond well, however, research findings are mixed and there are outstanding safety problems.

Why Get Out of Bed?

By Jennifer Haupt on October 16, 2017 in One True Thing
What would happen if I didn’t rip back the sheets, slap one foot on the floor and then the other, and then keep on moving all day long? A meditation on functional depression.

The Real Reason Behind Teen Anxiety and Depression

By Jeffery S. Smith M.D. on October 16, 2017 in Healing and Growing
The real reason for increased anxiety and depression among young people is deeper and bigger than is often recognized.

Yes, I'm an Introvert. No, I'm Not Depressed.

The introvert must be suffering from depression, because why on earth would someone want to stay home when there are parties to attend and fun to be had... right?
wrangle/bigstock

Depression and Dignity

By Susan Noonan MD on October 16, 2017 in View From the Mist
Don’t let depression steal your personal dignity!

Childhood ADHD and Poor Self-Esteem

Does your child with ADHD constantly put himself down? ADHD, anxiety, and negativity commonly go together. As parents, we have to figure out how to battle negative self-talk.

Time to Put Your Childhood Demons Behind You?

By Robert Taibbi L.C.S.W. on October 15, 2017 in Fixing Families
Everyone has baggage from the past that haunts or handicaps them in some way. The 3 common sources and ways to finally put these demons to rest

Is Facebook Making You Depressed?

Long a concern of psychologists studying Facebook use, the possibility of users become depressed comes under scrutiny in newly published research.

The Existential Dread of Climate Change

Denying climate change is no solution. But is being fully aware of its consequences making us depressed?

Psilocybin May "Reset" Brain Circuitry of Depressed Patients

By Christopher Bergland on October 13, 2017 in The Athlete's Way
Psilocybin may help "kick-start" recovery from treatment-resistant depression by "resetting" neural mechanisms, according to new fMRI brain imaging study.
serrnovik/DepositPhotos

Better Sleep with 5-HTP

By Michael J Breus Ph.D. on October 12, 2017 in Sleep Newzzz
Relaxation, a strong bio clock, and better sleep: 5-HTP may help.

A Key Strategy Used to Accept a Mental Health Problem

By Lauren Mizock Ph.D. on October 12, 2017 in Cultural Competence
Lessons from research on resilience among transgender and gender diverse people

The Rise of Uninvited Sexual Images

By Sue Scheff on October 12, 2017 in Shame Nation
Are you receiving unsolicited sexual content? A new survey says unwanted sexual images are becoming the norm among millennials. Protect yourself from sextortion.
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Shutting Down Body Shaming

New steps are being taken to change false, unrealistic body ideals portrayed in the media.

Omega-3s in Mental Health Care: Part 1

Curious about the evidence for omega-3s for depressed mood? Many studies report beneficial effects but more research needs to be done.

How Helping Others Can Relieve Anxiety and Depression

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on October 10, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
A new study shows that thinking of others' well-being may be more beneficial than trying to boost our self-image.

The Black Woman’s Guide to Getting Help for PPD

The hit comedy Black-ish tackles postpartum depression in a mom of color. If you are struggling, here is how to break the "strong black woman" stereotype and get help now.

Friendship at Work Can Be Tricky, But Also Life-Saving

By Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D. on October 10, 2017 in Feeling It
Friendships at work are critical for happiness and success - but you have to manage them with skill

6 Ways to Treat Anxiety and Depression from the Constitution

Identify and include the relevant marginalized parts of the self.

Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery and Risk of Suicide

By Alexis Conason Psy.D. on October 09, 2017 in Eating Mindfully
More and more research suggests that people who undergo bariatric surgery may be at increased risk of suicide. Why are these risks often neglected?

Why Some People Can't Stop Trolling Monica Lewinsky

By Sue Scheff on October 09, 2017 in Shame Nation
People are harassed online for many reasons, and political reviews are one of them. Will Monica Lewinsky ever stop being trolled online?

Even Happy People Get the Blues

Regardless of what we do, life will at some point bring us losses, disappointments, and instances of physical and emotional pain. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

The Role of Anger in Depression

By Lisa Firestone Ph.D. on October 09, 2017 in Compassion Matters
The more we can take our own side and resist the tendency to turn our anger on ourselves, the more we can challenge our depression.

Can Exercise Prevent Depression?

By Emily Deans M.D. on October 07, 2017 in Evolutionary Psychiatry
A large group of healthy individuals in Norway may have staved off depression with a small but regular amount of exercise. What does this tell us about how exercise might work?

Acetyl-l-carnitine: Important for Mental Health

Are you curious about the role of acetyl-l-carnitine in mental health care? This amino acid has beneficial effects on depressed mood, cognitive impairment, and dementia.

Why Ghosting Is Leading the World's Mental Health Crisis

Our social media bubble is about to burst. With so much information coming at us, we are quickly losing sight of the human connection it was meant to create.