What is Depression?

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Summary & Participants

How do you know if your bad mood represents something more serious? Learn how to recognize the various types of depression, and what you can do to get professional help.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2012

Webcast Transcript

ANNOUNCER: The National Institute of Mental Health reports that over 18 million American adults suffer from a depressive illness in the course of a year. But everyone feels blue from time to time. When is the problem more serious, something doctors call clinical depression?

JOHN M. KANE, MD: Clinical depression is much more intense, more severe and more long lasting, and that's what distinguishes it from these kinds of everyday bad moods that we all are prone to.

So the way we would define a major depressive disorder, which is a clinical diagnosis, is that for the better part of two weeks someone has been feeling very sad, depressed, blue. It's had an impact on their functioning. They're not able to enjoy most of the things that they usually enjoy, and the fact that that goes on continuously for two weeks is a key component of the diagnosis.

ANNOUNCER: Other factors play a role too: disturbances in sleep or appetite; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness; or thoughts of suicide or death.

Another serious depressive disorder is called bipolar disorder, or manic depressive illness.

JOHN M. KANE, MD: A patient may really kind of go from one extreme to the other in terms of mood. What we call a manic episode is where someone is overactive, feeling overly expansive or overly irritable. Their mood is abnormally elevated; they have grandiose thoughts, thoughts of having special powers or abilities. They may also be prone to doing things that are somewhat reckless, and people with this illness can at times experience the manic episodes and then at other times be experiencing the depressive episodes. And they can both be quite severe.

ANNOUNCER: A third type of serious depression is called dysthymic disorder, when someone is chronically depressed.

JOHN M. KANE, MD: It may not be quite as severe as what we categorized as a major depression, but it has some of the same qualities. The difference being that it can persist for a year, or two years and so forth, and so that describes someone who is more persistently and chronically unhappy: dysphoric.

ANNOUNCER: No matter which type of depression a person may suffer from, depression seriously interferes with lives.

JOHN M. KANE, MD: It affects people's ability to function, to work, to go to school. It affects their ability to enjoy life. It can have a devastating affect on social or marital relationships. There is also a high risk of suicide. ANNOUNCER: Good treatments are available for depression. But it's important for people to recognize the condition, and to seek help.

JOHN M. KANE, MD: I think the first key in treating depression is the person's ability to recognize the possibility that something is wrong. And once that's the case, I think it's very important that they consult with a mental health professional or with their primary care physician. The overwhelming majority of people with depression can be successfully treated either with psychotherapy or with medication or with a combination of the two.

ANNOUNCER: Studies show that the condition improves for a significant majority of people, when they seek treatment for depression. So the first steps are important ones: Recognize the problem and seek help.