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What is Depression?

Clinical depression goes by many names, such as “the blues,” biological depression, and major depression. But all of these names refer to the same thing: feeling sad and depressed for weeks or months on end — not just a passing blue mood of a day or two. This feeling is most often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, a lack of energy (or feeling “weighed down”), and taking little or no pleasure in things that once gave a person joy in the past.

Depressed? Take the Quiz Now Depression symptoms take many forms, and no two people’s experiences are exactly alike. A person who’s suffering from this disorder may not seem sad to others. They may instead complain about how they just “can’t get moving,” or are feeling completely unmotivated to do just about anything. Even simple things — like getting dressed in the morning or eating at mealtime — become large obstacles in daily life. People around them, such as their friends and family, notice the change too. Often they want to help, but just don’t know how.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can often start off as higher levels of anxiety in children. But today, the causes of depression still remain largely unknown.

What’s Depression Feel Like?

“[If there was] certainty that an acute episode [of depression] will last only a week, a month, even a year, it would change everything. It would still be a ghastly ordeal, but the worst thing about it — the incessant yearning for death, the compulsion toward suicide — would drop away. But no, a limited depression, a depression with hope, is a contradiction. The experience of convulsive pain, along with the conviction that it will never end except in death — that is the definition of a severe depression.”

~ George Scialabba


Clinical depression is different from normal sadness — like when you lose a loved one — as it usually completely envelops a person in their day-to-day living. It doesn’t stop after just a day or two — it will continue for weeks on end, interfering with the person’s work or school, their relationships with others, and their ability to just enjoy life and have fun. Some people feel as if a huge hole of emptiness has opened inside when experiencing the hopelessness associated with this condition. In any given year, 7 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with this condition; women are 2 to 3 times more likely to be diagnosed than men (American Psychiatric Association).

Can Depression Be Treated?

The short answer is yes: clinical depression is readily treated nowadays with modern antidepressant medications and short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy. For most people, a combination of the two works best and is usually what is recommended. In more serious or treatment-resistant cases, additional treatment options may be tried (like ECT or rTMS). No matter how hopeless things may feel today, people can get better with treatment — and most do.

Our library of resources below can help you better explore this condition, to help you learn the symptoms of it, common treatments, what to expect when you see a doctor or therapist, and how long it will be before you start to feel relief from your symptoms.

Symptoms of DepressionSymptoms and Types of Depression

What are the warning signs and symptoms doctors and therapists use to diagnose depression?
What are the different types of depression?
What causes depression?
Newly diagnosed? What you need to know about depression.

Depression TreatmentTreatment of Depression

What are the effective, scientific treatments for depression? We discuss the benefits of psychotherapy, medications, and whether you should consider psychotherapy, medication or both.

Living with DepressionLiving with depression

Are you living with this condition in your everyday life? If so, check out our Living With… guide for a wealth of helpful tips and articles about living with this condition. Also check out people’s personal stories of depression.

Getting Help For YourselfGetting help for yourself

Helping Someone Who’s DepressedHelping someone who is depressed

Have a friend or loved one that you suspect might be suffering from this condition?
10 Things You Should Say to a Depressed Loved One
4 Ways to Support Someone with Depression
What Not to Say to a Depressed Person


Materials in this section are based upon academic, professional and government sources, which are listed below.

    • American Psychiatric Association


    • National Institute of Mental Health


    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Archives of General Psychiatry
Psychiatric Services
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Journal of Psychiatric Research
Harvard Review of Psychiatry
Journal of Clinical Psychiatry
Journal of the American Medical Association
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology