What is depression?

Key Points:

  • Feelings of sadness are a normal part of life. These feelings usually last only a few hours or days before they gradually disappear on their own.
  • When feelings of sadness last two weeks or longer, affect most areas of your life, and stop you from enjoying the things you usually like, you may be experiencing depression.
  • More than 1 in 20 people will have serious problems with depression each year.
  • Depression is very common in young adults. More than 1 in 10 experience a problem with depression in any year. Even more young adults experience high levels of emotional distress.
  • If you are depressed, it’s important to talk to someone you trust such as a friend or family member. Consider seeking the help of a professional who knows how to help with depression.
  • Some people feel awful but do not realize that they are having problems with depression.

Depression can be treated successfully. Getting help with depression allows people to get their life back to normal quickly.

What is depression?

Key symptoms of depression that are present most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks are:

  • Depressed mood and/or
  • Greatly reduced interest or pleasure in most activities

In addition, several of these symptoms are present nearly every day. Not everyone with depression has all of these symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy or withdrawal from usual activities
  • Decrease or increase in appetite compared to usual
  • Sleeping much less or much more than usual
  • Problems concentrating or making decisions
  • Feeling very tired and weak or very low on energy
  • Feeling worthless or guilty (not just guilt about feeling depressed)
  • Feeling restless or slowed down – so much that other people notice it
  • Family members or friends notice that you are not your usual self and that your mood is low
  • Thinking a lot about suicide and/or death (not just fear of death)

Other common experiences are:

  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased motivation
  • Feeling less interested in sex

Depression becomes more common during the teenage years and is especially common in young adult years when people are going through many life changes. Twice as many women as men report problems with depression. It is a common problem throughout the adult years.

People who are having problems with depression often have other problems at the same time such as anxiety (nervousness, fears, worries) or problems with excessive use of alcohol or drugs.

Who can give advice?

  • Many people are familiar with depression and willing to guide you to get whatever help you may need.
  • It can be difficult to speak to someone about personal problems, but your family doctor, another health care provider, a school counselor, someone with the Mood Disorders Association, or a telephone help line can help.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th ed.). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Kessler, R. C., Wai, T. C., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62(6), 617-627.

Patten, S.B., Wang, J.L., Williams, J.V., Currie, S., Beck, C.A., Maxwell, C.J., & El-Guebaly, N. (2006). Descriptive epidemiology of major depression in Canada. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(2), 84-90.

Read More

If you are having thoughts of suicide or of harming yourself it is important to seek professional help. Learn More.

Please See:

Risk factors

Do I Have Depression?

What happens to depression without treatment?

Download: Fact Sheet: What is depression? on our Fact Sheets web page.