Clinical depression 101

Life is full of ups and downs, and for most people, those ups and downs depend largely on what’s happening around them. Finding money on the ground? Wonderful. Sick pet? Could be a tough day. For those with clinical depression though, how one feels is more often a product of what’s happening inside a person, rather than outside.

Clinical depression (also known as major depressive disorder) is a medical condition that is defined by an individual experiencing a depressed mood for most days for two weeks or more – it isn’t something that comes and goes. Clinical depression affects as much as 16.6% of the US population at some point (per American Psychiatric Association), and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, causes “severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.”

The American Psychiatric Association lists the following as possible symptoms of depression, noting that some are milder and some more severe:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite – weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In order for a healthcare provider to make a clinical depression diagnosis, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. This is to help distinguish clinical depression from episodes of sadness, like that which might follow an accident or an illness.

Most often, brain chemistry plays a role in clinical depression, which is why many of the medications designed to treat it attempt to regulate certain neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. Medication might not be the first step in a course of treatment for clinical depression as providers will often suggest therapy, but when depression is impacting one’s day-to-day life so severely, healthcare providers often turn to medications in conjunction with therapy.

If you or someone close to you has the symptoms of depression listed above, it is important to contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible to be evaluated. With the right treatment, most people who seek help get better within several months. Many people begin to feel better in just a few weeks.

Read more
  • Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, “Clinical depression: what does that mean?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, May 3 2017. Retrieved July 9 2018.
  • “Depression.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 6 2016. Retrieved July 9 2018.
  • “Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2018. Retrieved July 9 2018.
  • “What is clinical depression?” University Health Services UC Berkeley. UC Regents. Retrieved July 9 2018.
  • “What is depression?” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, January 2017. Retrieved July 9 2018. 
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