Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Clinically significant depression is marked by persistent sadness, a depressed mood, diminished interest in previously enjoyable activities, and other symptoms that interfere with the ability to function in daily life.
The condition often arises from a complex combination of factors that can include genetics, family history, trauma, stress, and illness. It is one of the most common mental disorders, impacting an estimated 7.1% of all adults in the U.S. each year.
Fortunately, effective treatments are available including medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. Self-help strategies can also help people better cope with their symptoms and begin to feel better.
Appropriate treatment for depression is essential, but self-help strategies can also help you feel better. Some things that can help you cope with feelings of depression include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, finding social support, and engaging in regular physical activity. While depression can make these things more challenging, tackling one or two tasks each day can help improve your well-being.
Some ways that you can support a friend or loved one with depression include offering support and avoiding judgment. Offer to help with tasks that your friend might be struggling with. Let them know you care, ask them what you can do to help, and encourage them to talk to their doctor. Learn more about depression so you can better understand ways you can help.
While depression appears to have some genetic risk factors, there is no identifiable gene for depression. However, research suggests that it is the interaction of genetics and environmental factors that contribute to the condition’s onset. You may have a genetic predisposition to depression, but this does not necessarily mean that you will develop the condition.
While there is no “cure” for depression, it is a treatable condition that can often be alleviated with the use of medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle modifications. Antidepressants can be effective, but they often take some time to begin working. While such medications may be used alone, they are also often prescribed in conjunction with psychotherapy.
A mood disorder refers to a broad class of mental health conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder, that primarily impact emotional states. People may experience prolonged periods of a significantly depressed or sad mood, or they may have episodes of an abnormally elevated or irritable mood to an extent that it causes distress and interferes with daily living.
A psychiatric evaluation is an assessment utilized by psychiatrists to diagnose mental health conditions. An evaluation often involves talking to your doctor about your symptoms, getting a physical exam, and filling out a questionnaire. This allows your doctor to gain insight into the nature and severity of your condition.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), previously known as dysthymia, is a chronic state of depression. It involves symptoms such as low mood, loss of interest, sleep changes, and appetite changes that last for at least two years. Symptoms may vary in intensity over time.
Psychosis is a mental state that involves losing contact with reality. People who experience psychosis may believe, see, hear, or feel things that are not real. Psychotic depression is a condition in which people experience psychotic symptoms such delusions and hallucinations alongside symptoms of depression.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), formally known as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, is a mood disorder that occurs the same time each year. People may experience feelings of depression, social withdrawal, and fatigue usually during the fall and winter. Disruptions to the normal circadian rhythm, often associated with reduced sunlight, may contribute to the condition’s onset.
Postpartum depression, formally known as major depressive disorder with a peripartum onset, is a serious but treatable form of depression that generally occurs after giving birth. It can potentially present with psychotic features and is characterized by symptoms such as sadness, fatigue, poor sleep, trouble bonding with the baby, feelings of guilt, and intrusive thoughts.
National Institute of Mental Health. Major depression. Updated February 2019.