Table of Contents
Depression: What It Is, How Common Is It, and How Is It Treated?


The Basics of Depression

What Is Depression?

MedlinePlus, a resource of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, calls depression a “serious medical illness.” It points out that depression goes beyond a temporary feeling of sorrow and actually occurs because the brain is not working completely right. People with depression can’t simply “buck up” or use positive thinking to solve the problem just like someone with strep throat or cancer can’t mind-over-matter their way into remission or a cure.

Depression can occur in a variety of forms, including, but not limited to:

What Causes Depression?

The CDC notes that medical professionals don’t know the exact cause of depression. Research has tied risks for depression to potential factors such as environmental factors and genetics. Some factors that could increase your risks of experiencing depression include:

  • You are dealing with another mental illness or an addiction disorder
  • You have a chronic or major health issue, such as cancer or chronic pain
  • You are dealing with a major change to life, including changing careers, moving, getting divorced, or losing a loved one
  • You take certain medications with depression as a known potential side effect
  • You’re dealing with financial problems
  • One of your blood relatives was diagnosed with depression in the past

Statistics About Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health reports the prevalence of major depressive episodes for people of various ages. According to its 2017 data, in that year alone, around 11 million adults experienced at least one major depressive episode. Younger people were more likely to experience or report their depression, as you can see from the table below.

Age Range Percent of people experiencing major depression
18-25 13.1
26-49 7.7
50+ 4.7

Depression isn’t a disorder limited to adults. The table below shows the prevalence of major depressive episodes in adolescents in 2017.

Age Percent of adolescents of that age who experienced major depressive episodes
12 4.8
13 8.8
14 11.8
15 17.2
16 16.9
17 18.5

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

How can you tell the difference between feeling normal emotions such as sorrow and grief and depression that may require professional intervention? If you’re worried about your own mental state or that of someone you love, you may want to talk to a professional for assistance.

Here are some common signs and symptoms of depression to help you understand if there may be something to worry about. According to the NIMH, these can be an indication of depression if you notice them daily or almost daily for two weeks or more.

  • Feeling as if you’re in a void or empty
  • Feeling persistently sad or anxious
  • Feeling hopeless or negative about your life
  • Not having normal levels of energy
  • Fatigue that isn’t helped by normal methods
  • A slowdown of your speech or movements
  • Changes in appetite or sleep or difficulty eating and sleeping normally
  • Thinking about death or suicide
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Not having the normal interest in hobbies or activities you previously enjoyed
  • Physical symptoms such as aches, cramps, stomach issues, or headaches with no other cause

If you notice these types of symptoms for a couple of weeks or more, consider talking to your doctor or other medical professional about how you’re feeling. They can help you understand whether you need treatment and options you might have.

Treatment for Depression

Depression can be treated. Like many chronic illnesses, the earlier depression is treated, the higher the chance at a positive outcome in most cases. But since depression is uniquely personal, no two situations are exactly the same. That means treatments are usually customized to fit the needs of the person in question, and they can range from basic lifestyle changes to inpatient therapy and medication.

Some treatments for depression currently offered include:

  • Recommended lifestyle changes. In some cases, doctors may suspect that depression is related to a physical issue. If neither physical nor mental issue is especially urgent, the medical provider may opt to take a cautious approach and begin with lifestyle changes, promoting healthier eating, exercise, and changes in social structures or even career.
  • Treating underlying physical issues. Doctors will also rule out any physical conditions that could be contributing to depression and treat them appropriately.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy and other “talk” therapies. CBT and other talk therapies have been shown to have a positive outcome on depression in many cases. They help you work through the root causes of your depression and develop coping mechanisms for dealing with the way you feel when you experience a depressive episode.
  • Medication. Antidepressants are medications that act on the brain to change the factors at play that could be leading you to feel depressed. They are often used when medical providers believe someone is dealing with depression caused by chemical changes or imbalances in the brain.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy. In this treatment, electrical impulses that you can’t typically feel are sent to the brain. Other similar treatments include vagus nerve stimulation and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. All of these treatments seek to change the way the brain wiring works to help stave off depression.

How to Get Help & Additional Resources

  • The National Institute of Mental Health provides a breakdown of many crisis hotlines and online resources that provide help for individuals dealing with depression or other mental health disorders.
  • You can call the SAMHSA hotline for help in finding local options for treatment or assistance if you or anyone you love is facing a mental health crisis or addiction. The phone number is (800)-662-HELP. The SAMHSA link also includes links to a number of helpful publications and guidelines on mental health and addiction topics.
  • collects a variety of government and expert links on the topic of depression to help individuals begin any kind of online research into the topic.

This guide is meant to be informational in nature only. Its purpose is to educate the public on the topic of depression, not recommend a specific treatment or provide medical advice. Always consult with your doctor and other medical professionals before moving forward with treatment for a mental health disorder or if you believe that you or someone you love may be dealing with depression.