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Depression: Depression & Related Conditions
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Major Depressive Disorder and Related Conditions

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Major DepressionEveryone has days where they feel blah, down, or sad. Typically, these feelings disappear after a day or two, particularly if circumstances change for the better. People experiencing the temporary "blues" don't feel a sense of crushing hopelessness or helplessness, and are able, for the most part, to continue to engage in regular activities. For people dealing with depressive disorders, negative feelings linger, intensify, and often become crippling. With normal sadness, people are still able to experience pleasure when positive events happen. With depressive disorders, the hopelessness and failure stay even when good things are happening. Other, more intense sorts of symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts and hallucinations (e.g., hearing voices), are also often present. These symptoms suggest that serious varieties of depression may be present, including the subject of this center: Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or (more informally), Major Depression. Major Depression.

Major Depressive Disorder is a common yet serious medical condition that affects both the mind and body. It creates physical (body), psychological (mind), and social symptoms. Informally, we often use the term "depression" to describe general sadness. The term Major Depressive Disorder is defined by a formal set of medical criteria which describe symptoms that must be present before the label may be appropriately used.

Major Depressive Disorder has been typically thought of as a mood disorder. The term "mood" describes one's emotions or emotional temperature. It is a set of feelings that express a sense of emotional comfort or discomfort. Sometimes, mood is described as an extended or ongoing emotion that colors a person's whole life and state of well-being. For example, if someone is depressed, they may not feel like exercising. By not exercising for long periods of time, they will eventually experience the negative effects of an inactive lifestyle such as fatigue, muscle aches and pains, and in some cases, other medical conditions like heart disease.

You may have heard terms like in the past like Unipolar Depression, Bipolar or Manic Depression, but these are separate and distinct disorders. During a particular day or week, people can shift from good (or "up") moods, to bad (or "down") moods, or remain somewhere in the middle ("neutral" mood). A person who experiences significant impairment related to shifting between up and down moods often has bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder can be envisioned as a seesaw movement back and forth between two poles or mood states ("bi" means "two"). In contrast to people with bipolar disorder, people with MDD remain on the down side of the pole; they do not exhibit mood swings. Because they are stuck on the down or depressed end of the mood continuum; they experience a unipolar ("uni" means "one") mood state. It is important to note that bipolar disorder or manic depression was originally described in the Major Depression chapter of the DSM; however, with new research and better understanding of the disorder, experts have now separated bipolar and its related disorders from the depressive disorders in the DSM-5. Visit our bipolar disorder center to learn more about that condition.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 15% of people affected. These people can become disabled by their condition and have problems going to school, work, and meeting their other responsibilities. If they get to school and/or work, they may have difficulty in their relationships with others. A stay at home caretaker such as a mother may have hard time caring for her children and accomplishing daily tasks. As such, daily suffering is not limited to the individual diagnosed with MDD. Spouses, children, parents, siblings, and friends of people experiencing MDD often experience frustration, guilt, anger, and financial hardship in their attempts to cope with the suffering of their loved one.

Major Depressive Disorder has a negative impact on the economy too. Depressive disorders are a leading cause of absenteeism and lost productivity. Although only a small number of people get professional help to relieve a depressive disorder, people with depression are significantly more likely than others to visit a doctor. Some people express their sadness in physical ways, and these individuals may go through extensive and expensive tests and treatments while their depressive disorder goes undiagnosed and untreated. As a result, depression-related visits to doctors account for a large portion of health care spending.

Although the causes of depression are not yet fully understood, we do know that there are a number of factors that can cause a person to suffer from depression. We also know that people who are depressed cannot simply will themselves to snap out of it. Getting better often requires appropriate treatment. Fortunately, there is a wide number of effective treatments available.

This center provides an in-depth look at Major Depressive Disorder by summarizing symptoms and diagnostic criteria according to the current standards, prevalence and course, historical and contemporary understandings of the causes of the condition, as well as diagnosis and treatment.