Conditions InDepth: Depression

Depression is a serious condition that involves your body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better.

Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression. People with depression may not recognize that they have a treatable disorder or they may be discouraged from seeking or staying on treatment due to feelings of shame and the associated stigma. Too often, untreated or inadequately treated depression is associated with suicide.

There are three main types of depressive disorders:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Dysthymic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness)

In a given year, depressive disorders affect an estimated 9.5% of adult Americans aged 18 and over. Nearly twice as many women (12%) as men (7%) are affected by a depressive disorder each year.

Any type of depression may run in families, suggesting that a biological vulnerability can be inherited. Depression can also occur in people who have no family history of the condition. Additional factors, such as stresses at home, work, or school, may trigger depression.

Whether inherited or not, depression is often associated with an imbalance in brain chemicals. Very often, a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors is involved in the onset of a depressive disorder. Depression may also result from having a chronic physical illness or from certain medications or drugs. In people who have suffered previous depression, another episode may be precipitated by very little or no stress.

What are the risk factors for depression?
What are the symptoms of depression?
How is depression diagnosed?
What are the treatments for depression?
Are there screening tests for depression?
How can I reduce my risk of depression?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is it like to live with depression?
Where can I get more information about depression?


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Available at: . Accessed March 24, 2007.

Men and depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: . Accessed March 28, 2007.

National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: .

Last reviewed April 2007 by Janet Greenhut, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Your Health and Happiness