What is depression?

In the mental health arena, we talk about depression a lot. But what exactly is depression? Is it different from feeling sad? What are the causes?

While everyone feels sadness from time to time, depression is more than that. It is both a mental and physical low. Beyond feeling sad, symptoms of depression include feelings of anxiety, guilt, or worthlessness, as well as lack of interest in usually pleasurable activities, difficulty concentrating, fatigue or feeling “slow,” oversleeping or insomnia, overeating or lack of appetite, body aches without a clear physical cause, and/or thoughts of death or suicide. Depression is not uncommon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 300 million people worldwide live with it.

It is not clear what elicits depression. The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website explains that it is likely a combination of genetic, social, environmental, and psychological factors. Importantly, depression is not a sign of lack of willpower or weakness. It is a disease like any other that can be treated. Antidepressant medications work for some. Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which involve changing habitual thoughts and behaviours and breaking the cycle of harmful thoughts, can also help. Many people use a combination of the two.

In addition to these treatments, it may also help to stay as active as possible and exercise, take your time and break large jobs into smaller tasks, confide in friends and family, and avoid self-medication with drugs or alcohol.

Click here to see the IGB community take on depression!

Learn more:

NIMH: Depression Basics

Psychology Today: Depression

World Health Organization | Depression