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Depression: Depression & Related Conditions

Major Depressive Disorder and Related Conditions

Depression Resources

Everyone has days where they feel blah, down, or sad. Typically, these feelings disappear after a day or two, particularly if circumstances change for the better. People experiencing the temporary "blues" don't feel a sense of crushing hopelessness or helplessness, and are able, for the most part, to continue to engage in regular activities. For people dealing with depressive disorders, negative feelings linger, intensify, and often become crippling. With normal sadness, people are still able to experience pleasure when positive events happen. With depressive disorders, the hopelessness and failure stay even when good things are happening. Other, more intense sorts of symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts and hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices), are also often present. These symptoms suggest that serious varieties of depression may be present, including the subject of this center: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or (more informally), Major Depression. Major Depression.

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Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is depression?

  • Major Depressive Disorder is a common yet serious medical condition that affects both the mind and body.
  • It creates physical (body), psychological (mind), and social symptoms.
  • Informally, we often use the term "depression" to describe general sadness. The term Major Depressive Disorder is defined by a formal set of medical criteria which describe symptoms that must be present before the label may be appropriately used.
  • According to the World Health Organization, depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 15% of people affected.
  • Depressive disorders are a leading cause of absenteeism and lost productivity.
  • We also know that people who are depressed cannot simply will themselves to snap out of it. Getting better often requires appropriate treatment.

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What are the symptoms of depression?

  • Symptoms can vary a great deal from one person to the next. Typical symptoms include:
    • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
    • Being tired and have no energy
    • A dramatic change in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain
    • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt
    • Inability to concentrate, think clearly, or make decisions
    • Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
    • Inactivity and withdrawal from typical pleasurable activities
    • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
    • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Symptoms can also change over time, such as with someone who is initially withdrawn and sad becoming very frustrated and irritable as a result of decreased sleep and the inability to accomplish simple tasks or make decisions.
  • When depression is severe, people may even experience symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions.

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What are the causes of depression?

  • The biopsychosocial model says that biological, psychological and social factors are all interlinked causes of depression.
  • Depression has been linked to problems or imbalances in the brain with regard to the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
  • A person who has a parent or sibling with depression is almost three times more likely to develop Major Depression than someone with no history of depression in their parents or siblings, which suggests that genetics play a role in the causes of depression.
  • Long-term stress that lasts for a year or more can affect the body's immune system and lead to an increased risk of developing physical illnesses and an increased likelihood of becoming depressed.
  • Psychological factors influencing depression include negative patterns of thinking, low coping skills, judgment problems, and difficulty in understanding and expressing emotions.
  • Personality factors, history and early experiences; and relationships with others are seen as important factors in causing depression.
  • People can also become depressed as a result of social factors such as: experiencing traumatic situations (a family death, divorce, job loss, abusive relationship, etc.), lack of social support/relationships, or harassment (bullying).

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When should I seek help for depression?

  • If your depressed mood lasts for more than two weeks, or is seriously interfering with your ability to function at work, with your family, and in your social life, you should consult with a mental health professional as soon as possible.
  • If you find yourself thinking seriously about suicide, you should make an appointment with a mental health doctor (a psychiatrist, or psychologist) as soon as you can.
  • If you are feeling like you will commit suicide within hours or days unless you receive some relief, then skip making an appointment with a doctor and go immediately to your local hospital emergency room and tell them there that you are feeling suicidal.

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How is depression diagnosed?

  • The diagnosis process often starts with a visit to a primary care doctor who may ask simple questions about your feelings and experiences.
  • A physical examination, medical history and lab tests will be done to determine if your depression is related to a physical condition.
  • If a physical condition is ruled out, then you should see a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, who will talk with you to learn more about your current problems and symptoms, as well as to obtain a complete history of previous symptoms, a family history, a history of significant stressful life events, and information concerning your lifestyle, social support, alcohol or drug use, and any suicidal thoughts or tendencies you may be experiencing.
  • In order to compare your symptoms to those of other people in order to determine the severity of your symptoms, you may be asked to complete one or more standardized questionnaire forms.

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How is depression treated?

  • It is important to know that depression is a HIGHLY treatable condition.
  • There is no single therapy that works equally well for every depressed person.
  • Depression is most often treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
  • Antidepressants help with some of the brain chemistry causes of depression. Typically this will include either a SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil, or a SNRI (serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), such as Wellbutrin or Effexor.
  • Psychotherapy helps people understand and then change the behavioral, cognitive and social patterns that cause or contribute to the depressed mood.
  • More severe cases of depression may require different and more frequent therapy than milder cases.
  • People with severe depression who may be engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as attempting suicide, refusing to eat, refusing to get out of bed, or may be showing signs of psychotic behavior, such as hallucinations and delusions, may require inpatient hospitalization.
  • People sometimes turn to Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) techniques such as traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Homeopathy, and Herbal Therapy for relief from their symptoms. Very few of these approaches have been tested in clinical trials for depression, so there is often little scientific evidence to support these practices.
  • One of the best studied and most famous CAM remedies for depression is St. John's Wort, which is an herbal preparation of a plant extract. Research does support this as a stand-alone alternative treatment for depression and in parts of Europe this herb is often the preferred remedy for treating depression.
  • If you are interested in CAM approaches, the best plan is to consult with a qualified CAM practitioner who can help determine which combination of treatments, and in what dosages, would be most beneficial for you.

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Are there self-help methods for depression?

  • Self-help approaches to treating depression are best thought of as additions to professional treatments.
  • People should not delay treating depression professionally, or attempt to treat it solely on their own.
  • The more that you take an active role in helping yourself recover, the better your chances of recovery are likely to be.
  • It is important to accept your diagnosis and to take the medications and other therapies that have been prescribed for you regularly.
  • Accept invitations to social events and maintain your typical social schedule as best you can even if you are not enjoying it as much as you used to.
  • One way to reduce the amount of stress you experience is to prioritize the demands you are facing and then to do only the most pressing tasks.
  • Talk about what is bothering you with a therapist or with friends or family members. If you don't feel comfortable talking, then keep a journal and vent through writing.
  • Regular physical exercise is thought to have an antidepressant effect.
  • One way to regain a sense of control is to educate yourself about your illness.
  • Choosing to make positive improvements in your sleep, eating, drug and alcohol use, exercise, social and spiritual habits can end up helping you improve your mood.

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News Articles

  • Depression, Suicide Ideation Prevalent in Medical Students

    The prevalences of depression or depressive symptoms and suicide ideation are 27.2 and 11.1 percent, respectively, among medical students, according to a review published in the Dec. 6 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a theme issue on medical education. More...

  • Depression on the Rise Among U.S. Teens, Especially Girls

    Report authors point to cyberbullying, social media use as possible causes, but say that hasn't been proven. More...

  • Depressive Symptoms Linked to Functional Status in CAD

    For patients with stable coronary artery disease, depressive symptoms and cardiac disease severity independently affect patient-reported functional status, according to a study published in the Nov. 1 issue of The American Journal of Cardiology. More...

  • High Rate of Antidepressant Use After Cancer

    Nearly 1 in 5 survivors taking medication for depression or anxiety years later. More...

  • Researchers Find Antidepressant Bupropion Crosses Placenta

    In pregnant women taking the antidepressant bupropion, the drug and its active metabolites cross the placenta to the fetal circulation, according to a study published in the October issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. More...

  • 45 More
    • Mom-to-Be's Antidepressant Use May Be Tied to Speech Issues in Child

      Study shows a link but can't prove cause and effect, and experts stress that overall risk is small. More...

    • Depression Can Fuel Heart Disease in Midlife Women: Study

      Psychologist recommends mental health screening at routine checkups. More...

    • Depression Common in Patients With Chronic Angina

      Development of depression is common in patients with newly diagnosed chronic stable angina, according to a study published online Oct. 4 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.. More...

    • Facebook Bullying Can Cause Depression

      Social media attacks have 'real emotional consequences,' researchers say. More...

    • Many Cases of Depression in Adults Not Being Treated

      Many American adults who suffer from depression aren't getting treatment, according to a study published online Aug. 29 in JAMA Internal Medicine. More...

    • Many Depressed Adults Not Getting Treatment: Study

      Reasons range from dismissal of symptoms to shame or stigma. More...

    • Major Depressive Disorder Ups Acute MI Risk in HIV-Infected

      For HIV-infected adults, major depressive disorder is associated with an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction, according to a study published online Aug. 24 in JAMA Cardiology. More...

    • Postpartum Depression Can Be ID'd During Infant Hospitalization

      Postpartum depression screening conducted during infant hospitalization can identify depression among previously unscreened women, according to a study published online Aug. 16 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. More...

    • Depression Common After Time Spent in ICU

      About one-third of ICU patients suffer psychologically, researchers find. More...

    • Depression Can Stalk Families Through Generations

      People whose parents, grandparents had the illness were 3 times as likely to get it themselves, study found. More...

    • Scientists Spot 15 Regions of Human DNA Linked to Depression

      Many are located near genes involved in brain development. More...

    • Behavioral Activation Therapy Viable Option in Depression

      Behavioral activation therapy is as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy for treating depression in adults, according to a study published online July 22 in The Lancet. More...

    • Could New 'Talk Therapy' Cut Cost of Treating Depression?

      Behavioral activation would be more accessible than currently recommended treatment, researchers say. More...

    • Baseline Depression Symptoms Tied to Low Med Adherence

      Among clinical and sociodemographic characteristics, only baseline depressive symptoms are tied to low medication adherence in teen patients with type 2 diabetes, according to a study published online June 28 in Diabetes Care. More...

    • Depression Linked to CKD in Patients With Diabetes

      For patients with diabetes, the presence of depression is associated with increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study published online June 16 in Diabetes Care. More...

    • Diabetic Retinopathy Independently Tied to Depression

      Severe nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy or proliferative diabetic retinopathy, but not diabetic macular edema, is associated with depressive symptoms, according to a study published online July 7 in JAMA Ophthalmology. More...

    • Depression Strikes Nearly 3 Million U.S. Teens a Year

      Effects can be devastating during adolescence, researchers say. More...

    • Depression Plagues Many With COPD

      Studies found 1 in 4 patients affected, and readmission to hospital for respiratory illness more likely. More...

    • Persistent Depression Linked to Increased CAC Scores in Women

      Persistent depressive symptoms are associated with increased coronary artery calcium scores among middle-aged women without cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the June 15 issue of The American Journal of Cardiology. More...

    • Study Questions Use of Antidepressants for Children, Teens

      They were seen as mostly ineffective and sometimes risky in these age groups. More...

    • Depressive Symptoms Linked to Reduced Fecundability

      Depressive symptoms are associated with reduced fecundability, according to a study published online April 28 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. More...

    • Scans Spot Brain Region That Misfires in Depressed People

      Contrary to previous thinking, the habenula is less active during unpleasant experiences. More...

    • Scientists Test 'Magic Mushroom' Chemical for Tough-to-Treat Depression

      Study of only 12 people suggests it may help some, but more and better research is needed. More...

    • Whole-Body Hyperthermia May Help Ease Depression Symptoms

      Whole-body hyperthermia may ease depression symptoms for up to six weeks, according to a study published online May 12 in JAMA Psychiatry to coincide with the annual meeting of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, held from May 12 to 14 in Atlanta. More...

    • Could Inducing Brief, Mild 'Fever' Help Ease Depression?

      Small study suggests heating the body might alter brain's serotinin levels, but more research is needed. More...

    • Depression Strikes, Stays With Many Caregivers of Critically Ill

      One year later, 43 percent were clinically depressed or had depressive symptoms, study found. More...

    • Ketamine May Ease Suicidal Thoughts in Major Depression

      Low doses of ketamine may quickly reduce suicidal thoughts in patients with treatment-resistant depression, according to a study published online May 10 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. More...

    • Depressive Episode May Not Always Follow Mania in Bipolar Disorder

      New study finds anxiety could be a third emotional state highly connected to the condition. More...

    • Mindfulness Therapy May Help Ease Recurrent Depression

      Review of 9 studies suggests it helps patients better cope with troubling thoughts and emotions. More...

    • Talk Therapy May Help Depressed Teens Who Shun Antidepressants

      Cognitive behavioral therapy can help boost mood without drugs, experts say. More...

    • Depression More Common in Kids Who Join Gangs, Study Finds

      And mental health problems, such as suicidal thoughts, seemed to worsen after they joined. More...

    • Severe Depression Linked to Dementia in Seniors

      As depression worsens, the risk of thinking and memory problems may double, research suggests. More...

    • Treating Depression Might Help Stem Heart Woes: Study

      Effective treatment shown to lower risk of major cardiovascular complications, researchers report. More...

    • Pediatricians Vary Widely in Diagnosing ADHD, Depression

      5 years of data show 15 percent of kids diagnosed with mental health condition; most prescribed drugs. More...

    • Genes May Link Risks for Pot Use, Depression

      Researchers say they found gene variants that boost the risk for marijuana dependence. More...

    • Could Lots of Time Spent on Social Media Be Tied to Depression?

      Study did not prove cause-and-effect, and researchers say more investigation is needed. More...

    • 'Love Hormone' Levels in Pregnancy May Point to Risk for Postpartum Depression

      Goal is to identify and treat this mental health issue early. More...

    • Depression Tied to Worse Outcomes for Heart Patients

      Heart attack, early death more common in depressed patients, study suggests. More...

    • Few Care Management Processes Used for Depression

      U.S. primary care practices use less than one care management process for depression, on average, according to a study published in the March issue of Health Affairs. More...

    • Most Pediatricians Don't Ask About Mom's Depression

      About 4 in 10 moms with young kids affected, which can have harmful effects on families, researchers say. More...

    • PTSD, Depression Common After Stem Cell Transplant

      A considerable proportion of patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression at six months after the procedure, according to a study published in the March 1 issue of Cancer. More...

    • Antidepressant Effexor Linked to Postpartum Bleeding in Study

      Hemorrhaging after labor seen in large Canadian study; other antidepressants known as SSRIs pose no risk, researchers say. More...

    • CBT May Work As Well As Meds in Major Depressive Disorder

      For adults with major depressive disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants have similar efficacy, according to a clinical guideline published online Feb. 9 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. More...

    • Postpartum Hemorrhage Up With Specific Antidepressants

      Exposure to serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors in late pregnancy is associated with increased risk of postpartum hemorrhage, according to a study published in the March issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. More...

    • Poor REM Sleep May Be Linked to Higher Risk for Anxiety, Depression

      Preliminary study suggests that emotional stress builds when this phase is disturbed, creating a 'vicious cycle.' More...

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