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

Music as a Shoulder to Cry On

Sad music seems to accommodate emotional healing by allowing people to safely get in touch with negative emotions that might otherwise be repressed.

The Mental Wellness Routine That Will Change Your Life

By Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. on March 28, 2017 in Living Forward
Do you know what you need to do in order to be happy? Here are 5 essential activities that if done regularly will bring about positive emotional well-being.

NatCon17 Is Coming and I’m Going on an Airplane!

By Adi Jaffe Ph.D. on March 27, 2017 in All About Addiction
It's hard to stay inspired in the field of behavioral health without exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking. National conferences like NatCon17 help remedy that.
https://pixabay.com/en/spring-tree-flowers-meadow-wood-276014/

How to Find Light in the Darkness

By Diana Raab Ph.D. on March 26, 2017 in The Empowerment Diary
Do you sometimes feel as if the darkness overpowers the light in your life? Here are some tips on bringing the light in.

Springing From One Mood into Another: Is the Sun at Fault?

Most revel in the warmth and new growth of Springtime. Some suffer.

Have You Got the "Too Busy" Blues?

Feelings of low mood and depression seem to be the norm these days, especially for women. Could it be that your too-busy life is largely to blame?

How "Daily Uplifts" Can Counter Depression

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on March 21, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
When we're depressed we tend to think that nothing will lift our mood. Results from a new study suggest otherwise.

Ketamine: The New Wonder Drug for Depression

Ketamine could be our first real wonder drug for the treatment of serious depression. But how does it work exactly?

Is Mental Illness the Rule Rather Than the Exception?

We hear all the time that 1 in 5 people struggle with a psychiatric disorder. New research now suggests that we have it backwards.

When Meditation Is Not Enough

Strategies for bringing mindfulness into everyday life.

Hearing Loss Won't Kill You, or Will It?

By Katherine Bouton on March 18, 2017 in What I Hear
If you are a therapist with a patient with hearing loss, please take it seriously. Their life may depend on it.

Mistakes Don't Have to Be Setbacks: 3 Ways to be Resilient

It’s never pleasant to make mistakes but they don't have to ruin your life. New research on resilience shows 3 ways to keep little things that go wrong from becoming a big deal.

Movies That Tell Us Life Is Livable, Even If It's Imperfect

By Stanton Peele on March 18, 2017 in Addiction in Society
Two new movies tell us that life is worth living, and love worth pursuing, even as it carries bitter disappointments.

A Dietary Treatment for Depression

In a world first, Australian researchers have used a dietary change to successfully treat depression.
"Lime Butterfly"/giovzaid85/CC BY 2.0

When Is Reimagining the Past a Sign of Emotional Health?

By Barb Cohen on March 17, 2017 in Mom, Am I Disabled?
For counterfactual thinking to be functionally beneficial, we need a coherent story of cause and effect that makes us an essential actor in the story.

A Blended Approach to Health

The Resilience Regiment speaks to Sierra Tucson
eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

Tears of Pain and Tears of Joy

Crying can be a powerful expression of pain or joy; however it can also be used as a manipulative device. Genuine crying is a window into a person's emotional condition.

Machine Learning and Antidepressant Response

By David Hellerstein M.D. on March 14, 2017 in Heal Your Brain
Machine learning offers a powerful new method of exploring response to antidepressant medicine and a host of other treatments throughout medicine, a JAMA Psychiatry report shows.

Different Types of Trauma: Small 't' versus Large ‘T’

By Elyssa Barbash Ph.D. on March 13, 2017 in Trauma and Hope
Are you feeling stressed and unable to cope, but don't understand why? There may be good reasons for that.

21 Simple Things You Can Do to Feel Better Right Now

I know what it feels like to be really miserable. I’ve been there. So I made you a list of 21 simple things you can do to feel better right here, right now.

Unloved Daughters and Mourning the Mother You Deserved

By Peg Streep on March 09, 2017 in Tech Support
Recovering from a pain-filled and difficult childhood is a long journey for most but there's one step that's often overlooked or ignored: Grieving for the mother you didn't have.

The Stress (and Depression) of Over-Commitment

Is being 'over-committed' really just a way to avoid depression?
De Visu at Bigstock.com

Adjust Our Sails

By Susan Noonan MD on March 08, 2017 in View From the Mist
When the winds of depression come, you can do nothing or alter your course.

Why Is Gratitude in Relationships So Beneficial?

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on March 07, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
Writing about people we're thankful for boosts our well-being. Does expressing our gratitude help even more?

Prepare Your Child for College by Teaching Resilience

Is your high achieving high school student resilient enough for college?

3 Steps to Happiness

The secret to happiness in three simple steps.

8 Ways CBT Can Improve Your Relationship

By Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. on March 06, 2017 in Think, Act, Be
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help your relationship in many ways—even when the treatment isn't specifically about your relationship. Find out how to start using CBT today.

The College Mental Health Crisis: Focus on Overall Wellbeing

Let’s look at some scary facts about mental health on our campuses...

Brain Size in Bipolar Disorder

New study on how the hippocampus is diminished in size with bipolar disorder.

Unrealistic Expectations Impede Happiness and Empathy

Having unrealistic expectations is a major source of unhappiness and it's very challenging to be grateful for disappointments.