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What is Depression?

Depression can be thought of as a mood disorder, a syndrome involving a collection of symptoms irrespective of the presence of other psychological or medical disorders. Depression itself can be a symptom of other diagnosed disorders. As its own psychological dysfunction syndrome, depression is a constellation of signs and symptoms that cluster together (e.g., sadness, negative self-concept, sleep and appetite disturbances, loss of pleasure). In its most serious forms, depression is a disabling disorder that is associated with emotional distress, severe social and occupational disruption, increased risk for physical illness and sometimes death. Up to 15% of individuals with severe Major Depressive Disorder die by suicide. Depression is frequently a chronic disorder that can last...

Depression can have several different underlying causes. It is likely caused by some combination of environmental, genetic, psychological and biochemical factors. In some cases, depression can be triggered by an event such as a death or loss of job while other causes are more systemic such as age or heredity.

Also, there are some Hypothesized Adaptive Evolutionary Theories of Depression that point to some evolutionary theories on why we get depressed.

And finally, some Psychological Perspectives on the Etiology of Depression seek to explain depression from the standpoint of unexpressed and repressed anger.

The signs of depression usually develop over days to weeks. A prodromal period that may include anxiety symptoms and mild depressive symptoms may last for weeks to months before the onset of a full depressive episode. An untreated depressive episode typically lasts 4 months or longer, regardless of age at onset. In a majority of cases, there is complete remission of symptoms, and functioning returns to the premorbid level. In a significant proportion of cases (20-30%), some depressive symptoms insufficient to meet full criteria for a major depressive episode may persist for months to years and may be associated with some disability or distress. In some individuals (5-10%), the full criteria for a major depressive episode continue to be met for 2 or more years.1

The overall...

Accurate diagnosis of any individual's specific depression symptoms will provide clarity for how to approach treatment. An individual who suffers from mental fatigue might approach different treatment(s) (like meditation) than one with excessive mental stimulation (who might take Kava to slow the mind down). Similarly, someone showing signs of insomnia would be treated differently (perhaps with chamomile and a change in diet) than one who oversleeps (who might need exercise to energize them!).

As a first step in the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, a clinical psychologist look for the occurrence of the following signs of depression in an individual:1

A. Exhibiting 5 (or more) out of the following symptoms when they have been present during...

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