Depression is the most widespread mental health issue in the United States, and affects more than 17 million people per year. Depression encompasses several issues: major depression; dysthymia – chronic low mood; adjustment disorder; seasonal affective disorder – also called SAD; and bipolar disorder. Depression is often caused by many factors rather than a single event. This condition can manifest in both mental and physical symptoms, and interfere with daily life. Depression often requires long-term care, but patients generally feel better with treatment.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Common symptoms of depression include frequent crying, low mood and anxiety, restlessness, sadness or frustration, irritability, guilt and anger. A depressed person may lose interest in normal social interactions or activities, experience low sex drive, poor appetite, unintended weight loss, back pain and headaches. Sleep patterns may change, with depressed persons sleeping too much or not enough. Distraction and poor concentration, poor memory and indecisiveness as well as thoughts of suicide or death may accompany depression.

Because depression causes symptoms that may be associated with other conditions, such as low thyroid function, doctors will generally try to rule these out first. A physical examination and blood test can help rule out other conditions. Doctors will then complete a psychological evaluation. This provides insight into a patient’s thought patterns and moods. The diagnosis will be based on sets of criteria for major depression, bipolar disorder, SAD or other condition encompassed under depression.


Depression is generally caused by a combination of several factors. Genetics may play a role, as depression tends to run in families. Low levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain or an imbalance of hormones can also result in depression. Sometimes, chronic stress, illness, or a major event such as a death or divorce can can play a role in developing depression.   Continue for Prevention information . . .

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