What is depression?
Depression is different for everybody and people experience it in different ways. However, it’s important to think of depression, particularly the most clinically significant type of depression (what we call major depression) as a medical condition. It's not too different than high blood pressure or diabetes.
While everybody experiences depression in a different way, there are some core features or symptoms of depression/major depression. The core features are a depressed mood, feeling sad or down, and also feeling a decrease or loss of interest in pleasurable activities or things that are usually of interest.
However, depression isn’t just feeling sad or down because everybody feels that way at some point. There’s a whole constellation of other symptoms that accompany depression, including things like a loss of energy, fatigue, low appetite or increased appetite, problems with sleep, decreased sleep or increased sleep, problems with concentration, feeling worthless, hopeless, guilty, and in severe cases people can feel like they don’t want to live anymore and even have suicidal thoughts.
These symptoms come together and affect a person’s ability to function and their quality of life. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s not a sign that you’re not trying hard enough or that you don’t have enough willpower. It’s very important to know that depression can really happen to anybody. It’s not your fault when you get depressed.
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Jesse Fann, M.D., M.P.H., is a consultation-liaison psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington and an adjunct professor in the UW departments of Rehabilitation Medicine and Epidemiology. His clinical interests include consultation-liaison psychiatry, psychiatric oncology and neuropsychiatry. His research interests include psychiatric epidemiology, health services research, psychiatric oncology and neuropsychiatry.