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Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is depression?

Depression, also known as clinical depression, is a serious mental health disorder that often involves an imbalance of the chemicals that support brain function. Depression is more than just feeling sad or having the blues for a few days. Clinical depression is a mood disorder commonly involving feelings of sadness, loss, anger, frustration or despair that interfere with everyday life for an extended period.  

Depression is a common condition that can negatively affect a person’s ability to go to work and school, care for family, and take care of basic needs. More than 20 million people in the United States have depression, according to the National Institutes of Health (Source: NIH).

Depression is often thought of as experiencing feelings of sadness, “having the blues,” or being disheartened. However, normal feelings of sadness, such as sadness due to a death in the family, although painful, generally resolve with time. For people with depression, feelings of sadness linger and intensify to the point that they interfere with a person’s ability to function normally. This in turn can intensify the depression.

There are many types of depression including:

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  • Major depression is the most intense and serious type of depression.

  • Dysthymic disorder is a less severe type of depression that is not as disabling as major depression, but is long-lasting and negatively affects your feelings of well-being and your ability to function effectively in daily living activities.

  • Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes, from depression to mania, which is an extremely energetic and “up” state.

  • Postpartum depression is a type of depression that sometimes occurs in women after giving birth.

Most people with depression do not seek assistance from a mental health professional, but they continue to visit their primary care provider. Frequently, through denial or misapprehension, there is reluctance to seek help for depression. It is important to understand that depression is not a sign of weakness. People who suffer from depression can’t simply make themselves feel better and happy again. 

The good news is that there are effective treatments for depression. If you are feeling depressed for two or more weeks, contact your health care provider to discuss the many treatment options for depression, as well as self-care steps that can help in your treatment.

A serious complication of depression is suicidal thoughts or actions. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with or know, are having or expressing feelings of wanting to hurt or kill oneself or another person.  

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 14, 2016

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Medical References

  1. 1. Depression. National Institute of Mental Health.
  2. 2. Depression. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.