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What is depression? What causes depression?
Depression, also known as major depression, clinical depression or major depressive disorder is a medical illness that causes a constant feeling of sadness and lack of interest. Depression affects how the person feels, behaves and thinks.
Depression can lead to emotional and physical problems. Typically, people with depression find it hard to go about their day-to-day activities, and may also feel that life is not worth living.
This Medical News Today (MNT) information page provides essential details about depression – describes what it is, the different forms of depression, its symptoms, possible causes, and currently available treatments.
At the end of some sections you may find updates from MNT news articles.
What is depression?
Feeling sad, or what we may call “depressed”, happens to all of us. The sensation usually passes after a while. However, people with a depressive disorder – clinical depression – find that their state interferes with daily life.
Abraham Lincoln O-60 by Brady, 1862
Abraham Lincoln suffered from “melancholy”,
known today as clinical depression.
For people with clinical depression, their normal functioning is undermined to such an extent that both they and those who care about them are affected by it.
Melancholia – clinical depression is a fairly modern term. Hippocrates, known as the father of Western medicine, described a syndrome of “melancholia”. He said melancholia was a distinct disease with specific physical and mental symptoms. Hippocrates characterized it as “(all) fears and despondencies, if they last a long time” as being symptomatic of the illness.
Eugene S. Paykel wrote in the journal Dialogues of Clinical Neuroscience6that the term “depression” started to appear in the 19th century.
An article published in Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology5 explains that melancholia included a broader range of symptoms compared to clinical depression. It included dejection, sadness, despondency, anger, fear, delusions and obsessions.
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, suffered from “melancholy”.
According to the National Institutes of Health1, a significant percentage of people with depressive illness never seek medical help. This is unfortunate, because the vast majority, even those with very severe symptoms, can improve with treatment.
How common is clinical depression? – Nobody is sure exactly how many people are affected by depression. Health authorities from country to country and even within the same nation publish different figures:
The National Institute of Mental Health2 estimates that 6.7% of American adults have had depressive illness during the last 12 months, and 30.4% of these cases (2% of the whole adult population) have severe symptoms.
While the National Institute of Mental Health2 says women are 70% more likely to develop depressive symptoms during their lifetime, an article published in JAMA Psychiatry (August 2013 issue) showed that depression affects 30.6% of men and 33.3% of women, not a statistically significant difference.
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE)3 estimates that in the United Kingdom 21 in every 1,000 16-to-65 year olds live with major depression (17/1000 males and 25/1000 females). If “mixed depression and anxiety”, a less specific and broader category is included, the prevalence rises to 98 per 1,000.
In Australia only 1 in every five people with clinical depression is accurately diagnosed, according to the State Government of Victoria4, “because depression can mask itself as a physical illness like chronic pain, sleeplessness or fatigue.”