Depression: what is it?

It is common to experience depressed moods or "the blues" at some points in life. Most often, these periods of sadness occur as a result of a life change, either in the form of a personal setback, or a loss such as the death of a loved one. The painful feelings that accompany these periods are usually temporary and should be viewed as part of the human experience. However, when feelings persist and result in significant distress or serious problems in daily life, this may be a sign of depression - a medical condition that requires treatment. The severity and duration of symptoms are the key factors that distinguish normal sadness from depression.

The causes of depression are not clear. It may be linked to abnormalities of the brain's neurotransmitter systems, particularly the chemical messengers serotonin and noradrenaline. Stressful and traumatic events can trigger depression in some people, but not everyone. A family history of depression can play a significant role. Women are more at risk and experiencing the loss of a parent in one's childhood also increases your risk. Most clinicians believe that depression is caused by a complex combination of biological, psychological, and social factors unique to each person.

Depression is an illness that can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, class, or gender. About 20% of women and 10% of men suffer from depression at some point during their lives. Treatment for depression is always needed. Sometimes the symptoms may be severe enough that the person needs to be hospitalized to provide appropriate care or protection from self-harm. Unfortunately, there is a 15% risk of suicide in people who have the more severe forms of depression.

Are you depressed? Our checklist can help determine if you need professional help.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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