About Depression

Depression is Very Common

We all feel miserable or fed up at times, for a few hours or maybe a few days at a time.  Mental health professionals use the terms ' unipolar depression' or ‘major depressive disorder (MDD)’ to refer to something different from that common experience.  A major depressive episode involves feeling sad more intensely and for longer periods.  Such feelings are severe enough to interfere with our daily lives and may persist for weeks or months rather than days.  Because the illness or disease that is depression cannot be seen, some people may view it as weakness or laziness.  This is not the case.  MDD is a real and common illness, like heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis.  It is a major reason for people taking time off work, causes great problems in peoples' home lives, and can lead to death from suicide or from self-neglect.  Depression is not dependent upon personality and can affect anybody.

Take Our Free Depression Screener

This screener is part of a study conducted by one of the Depression Center faculty members.  This screener is private and confidential.  Please note that the results are aggregated, and your responses will not be reviewed by a mental health professional.  It is offered to you only as information.

Symptoms of Depression Can Be Physical, Psychological, and Social

For example, some people with depression do not complain of low mood, but of physical symptoms, such as aches and pains and lack of energy, while others complain of difficulties keeping up at work.  Other symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, a loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable and irritability, can interfere with  a person's work, family, and social life.   Sometimes depression has a clear cause.  Some people find that major changes in their life (moving homes, losing a job, having a baby) can lead to a period of depression.  However, in other people, it is difficult to find a cause, and depression appears to strike 'out of the blue'.

The Cause of Depression Can Be Understood in Several Different Ways

  • One way is a psychological understanding, in which a life event such as the loss of a partner causes persistent low mood, feelings of low self-esteem and hopelessness about the future.
  • Another way is a physical or chemical understanding, in which depression is caused by changes in levels of chemicals in the brain, which are fundamental to its functioning.
  • Another way is a social understanding, in which reduced activities or interests both cause depression and arise from depression.

The cause of depression is best understood when we consider all of these aspects together (psychological, physical, chemical and social) relating to each other.  These various aspects that can cause depression all influence each other.  It is not possible to understand depression as a chemical or psychological phenomenon alone.  Instead, it is best to see it as an illness that has psychological, chemical and social causes.  This helps us to understand the best way to get better from depression. Physical treatments (such as antidepressants), psychological treatments (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), and social treatments (such as increased activities and befriending) can all be effective in the treatment of depression.  While focusing on one aspect may provide a cure, focusing on two or three may provide quicker and longer-lasting benefits.

Some people are more likely than others to develop depression.  These people are said to be predisposed to develop depression.  The most common factor that predisposes people to depression is having close relatives who also have depression.   In other people, drinking alcohol or using street drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy, or cocaine can trigger depression, as can certain physical illnesses or medicines prescribed by your doctor.