The Facts About Depression

We all have sad days from time to time but sadness that is persistent and interferes with daily functioning may be something more than feeling down in the dumps. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that 1 out of 10 U.S. adults will suffer from depression. Here are a few facts about depression.


Depression is a disorder of the brain, which may occur simultaneously with other mental health or medical conditions. People with depression have brains that are different from people without depression and these differences can be seen in brain scans.


There are several types of depression—major depressive disorder, Dysthymia and minor depression.

Individuals with major depressive disorder have trouble working, sleeping, studying, eating, and enjoying activities. They often experience multiple depressive episodes in their lives. Dysthymic depression, or Dysthymia, persists for at least two years. The symptoms are not as disabling as with major depressive disorder, but still disrupt normal functioning. Minor depression lasts two or more weeks and may or may not disappear if not treated. People who have minor depression are at higher risk for developing major depression down the road.


Depression is more common in women. However, this reason is not clear and may be because women are more likely to seek treatment for the problem. While it's not a normal part of aging, depression is more common in older adults. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed, because physicians and family members attribute depressive symptoms to other illnesses.


Mental health experts are not entirely sure what causes depression. In addition to visible brain differences, changes in neurotransmitter levels, hormones, genetics, and traumatic life events may play a role in depression.


Symptoms may vary between genders and among different age groups. Even so, depressed individuals generally exhibit some or all of these common symptoms:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, or helpless
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Fatigue, decrease in energy, and difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Thoughts about, or attempts at, suicide
  • Unexplained physical ailments


The most common treatments for depression are antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. Antidepressants do have side effects and some medical professionals believe antidepressants are overprescribed and not necessarily effective, at least for mild to moderate depression.


It's possible to prevent or manage depression with lifestyle choices. Here are some steps you can take to improve your mood.

  • Exercise. Research shows that exercise is at least as good as antidepressants in mild to moderate depression. Exercise releases endorphins, or feel good hormones.
  • Emphasize whole foods in your diet, minimize grains and sugars, and consume high-quality, omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Get plenty of sunshine to optimize your vitamin D levels.
  • Reap the physical and mental rewards of volunteering. According to LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, a psychologist, social worker and member of the QH advisory board, volunteering helps lessen the effects of depression. Focusing on someone other than you can interrupt unhealthy patterns, give you a sense of control and even strengthen the immune system.

LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, reviewed this article.



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Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. "Depression," Page last reviewed: 20 April 2012.