Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, affecting more than 264 million people worldwide.
A sense of hopelessness, the feeling of being “weighed down,” and a loss of enjoyment in things that used to bring you joy — these are some common signs of depression, one of the most widespread mental health issues in the world.
Clinical depression goes by many names, such as “the blues,” biological or clinical depression, and major depressive disorder (MDD). The
Even simple things — like getting dressed in the morning or eating at mealtime — can feel like large obstacles when you have depression.
Depression symptoms take many forms, and no two people’s experiences are exactly alike. A person with depression may not always seem sad to others. And when friends or family do notice signs of depression, they may want to help but not know how.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that about 7% of U.S. adults experience depression each year.
Clinical depression is different from sadness or grief — like when you lose a loved one, experience a relationship breakup, or get laid off from work — as it usually consumes you in your day-to-day living.
Unlike sadness, depression doesn’t stop after only a day or two. It can continue for weeks on end, interfering with your work or school, relationships with others, and ability to enjoy life.
Some people feel as if a huge hole of emptiness has opened inside when experiencing the hopelessness associated with depression. Apathy and anhedonia, or inability to feel pleasure, are common aspects of depression.
You’ll likely speak with a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker, who could diagnose your condition.
Though a general practitioner or family doctor can make an initial diagnosis, a specialist can provide complete follow-up and treatment.
If you’ve experienced most of the following symptoms every day over 2 or more weeks, you might meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis:
- a persistent feeling of loneliness or sadness
- lack of energy
- feelings of hopelessness
- getting too much or too little sleep
- eating too much or too little
- difficulties with concentration or attention
- loss of interest in enjoyable activities or socializing
- feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- thoughts of death or suicide
Depression can look very different from person to person, and the intensity of the symptoms may also vary. Also, if you have depression, you might not experience every symptom.
Depression can appear differently in children than in adults. Some symptoms in children can include anxiety or anxious behavior.
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
MDD is what comes to mind for most people when they think of depression. It’s also the most common depression diagnosis.
If you experience a loss of pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, along with a depressed mood that lasts at least 2 weeks, you might meet the criteria for MDD. In children and teens, MDD can also look like irritability rather than sadness.
Postpartum depression is depression that can occur in people who have just given birth. It can also occur in other parents and caregivers who haven’t given birth.
Typically, postpartum depression can begin in the first month after giving birth, but it can also begin during pregnancy. If you have a history of depression, you may be more likely to experience postpartum depression.
Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is a subtype of depression triggered by seasonal changes. Though it’s more common in the winter and fall months, it can occur in the summer as well.
If you notice persistent sadness or lack of energy during a certain time of year, you might have seasonal depression. Treatment includes light therapy, establishing consistent sleep routines, and talk therapy.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), previously known as dysthymia and chronic major depression, is a form of depression that lasts for at least 2 years.
While it can be more challenging to treat than other types of depression, it’s possible to get relief from symptoms. If you’re diagnosed with PDD, you’ll likely work with your healthcare professional to create a treatment strategy that’s best suited for you.
Bipolar disorder depression
Some forms of bipolar disorder involve depressive episodes. Sometimes depressive episodes alternate with episodes of mania or hypomania.
Treatment for bipolar disorder depression can differ from other depression treatment approaches. For example, due to the nature of bipolar disorder, antidepressants are not always a safe way to manage bipolar disorder symptoms.
Other depression subtypes
Other subtypes of depression include depression with the following:
If you talk with a therapist, you might learn if any of these specifiers apply to you. You can also learn more about the types of depression below.
As with most mental health conditions, researchers still aren’t sure what causes depression. But most experts consider the following to be contributing factors:
- gut bacteria
- family history
- social factors and upbringing
Anyone can experience depression. But some risk factors indicate how likely you are to experience it.
For instance, women might be
According to the NIMH, other risk factors for depression can include:
- a family history of mood disorders
- major life changes
- trauma or chronic stress
- medical conditions
- certain medications
- alcohol or other substance use
Even if you don’t identify with any depression risk factors, you could still meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis. You can learn more about the causes and risk factors for depression below.
Can depression actually be successfully treated? The short answer is yes.
According to the NIMH and countless research studies over the past 6 decades, clinical depression is readily treated with short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy or talk therapy and antidepressant medications.
For most people, a combination of the two works best and is often recommended by healthcare professionals.
Psychotherapy approaches scientifically proven to work with depression include:
Therapy is one of the most effective treatments for all types of depression, and it has very few side effects. It’s also typically covered by all insurers.
For mild depression, many people begin with self-help strategies and emotional support.
Exercise and diet are other factors to consider when building a routine to manage depression. Though it can be difficult to practice consistent self-care habits when experiencing a depressive episode, small steps can help.
Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medications for depression.
When psychotherapy and antidepressants don’t work, clinicians may consider other treatment options. Usually, additional medication to support the existing antidepressant medication is considered.
Additional treatment options such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) may be tried in more serious cases.
Effective treatment depends on recognizing there’s a problem, seeking to address it, and following a treatment plan. This can be challenging when you have depression, but patience is key when beginning treatment.
No matter how hopeless things may feel, you can get better with treatment — many people do.
You can learn more about the benefits of psychotherapy and medications and whether you should consider one or both in our in-depth depression treatment guide below.
If you live with depression, simply waking up in the morning and getting out of bed can feel like a struggle.
Everyday tasks — like showering, eating, or going to work or school — can sometimes feel like large hurdles to a person living with depression.
One key to managing living with depression is ensuring you’re receiving treatment or taking steps to build a solid self-care routine. Treatment could include therapy, medication, or both.
Also, being an active participant in your own wellness plan can be helpful. While this can require effort, it can be done. For some people with depression, leaning on a support network or trusted loved one can help.
When you see a family member or friend experiencing an episode of depression, it’s normal to want to reach out and lend a hand. But when it comes to depression, what you can do to help isn’t always clear.
Loved ones of a person with depression may remain silent, fearful of making the situation worse or alienating the person they care about. And while more people are becoming aware of depression and its effects, stigma tied to the condition persists and prevents people from discussing it.
If you think a loved one could be experiencing a depressive episode, there are ways you can offer support.
Below are some articles that offer guidance for people who want to learn how they can best support a loved one who has depression.
Helping a loved one with depression:
- How Can I Help Someone in My Life Who’s Depressed?
- 9 Best Ways to Support Someone with Depression
- 9 Ways to Help a Friend or Family Member with Depression
- 4 Ways to Support Someone with Depression
- Identifying Depression in the Elderly
What to say to someone with depression:
- 10 Things You Should Say to a Depressed Loved One
- 6 Things to Say to Someone with Depression or Who’s Depressed
- What Not to Say to a Depressed Person
- Worst Things to Say to Someone Who’s Depressed
Helping a partner with depression:
- Recognizing Depression in Your Partner
- How to Help Your Partner Through Their Depression
- Suffering in Silence: When Your Spouse Is Depressed
- Depression: The Spouse’s Side of the Story
- When a Depressed Spouse Refuses Help
Helping a child or teen with depression:
- Signs of Childhood Depression
- Depression in Teens and Children
- 7 Common Mistakes Parents Make When Trying to Help Their Depressed Teen
- Is My Teenager Depressed or Just Moody? 8 Questions to Consider Before Getting Help
- 4 Facts About Teen Depression and How Parents Can Help
Recovery from depression can take time, but there is hope. There are many steps you can take to manage depression.
You can begin by talking with someone — anyone — about your feelings and finding some immediate emotional support through the sharing.
Some people begin by talking with their family physician. A medical professional can also offer referrals or encourage you to continue your treatment with a mental health specialist.
When it comes to managing depression, your first step can connect you with the resources you need to manage your symptoms and thrive.