Depression is an illness that can affect both your mood and your body. It is also referred to as clinical depression or major depressive disorder. People may become depressed for many reasons, including the loss of a loved one, problems with work, a serious illness, or a family history of depression.

Depression may also result from the difficulties of living with other mental and physical conditions. Whatever the reason for depression, doctors have found that people with depression have an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals (such as serotonin and norepinephrine) act as messengers between the nerve cells and may influence your mood. When these chemicals are low, nerve cells can't communicate as well and the symptoms of depression may occur.

Doctors will determine whether you have depression by asking you about different aspects of your life and how you feel. There are also some written psychological tests that can help with the diagnosis. The symptoms are more than just feeling "bad" or feeling "blue." You may have trouble sleeping, or you may want to sleep all the time. You may not be able to concentrate, have no appetite, or have lost interest in doing a favorite activity or hobby.

Depression Quiz


Doctors consider diagnosing someone with "major depression" if that person has experienced most or all of the following symptoms nearly every day for at least two weeks:

  • Depressed or irritable mood.
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy.
  • Change in appetite or a change in weight (either a loss or a gain).
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Agitated actions or slowed-down actions.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Difficulty in making decisions or concentrating.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Note that everyone has symptoms like these occasionally without having "major depression." Some people say they are depressed when they are sad about life events or when they are mourning a loss. It is when the symptoms interfere with daily life that the diagnosis of "major depression" can be made.


It is estimated that one out of five people will have depression at least once in their lifetime. Untreated depression increases the likelihood of additional medical illnesses and increases the risk of death from all causes (not just suicide). Therefore, it is important that any individual with depression be encouraged to seek treatment.

Depression may be treated by medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. In many cases, your primary doctor will prescribe drugs to treat depression. If you would like the additional help of a specialist in psychiatry or psychology, MDwise allows you to arrange your own visit to a mental health professional without a referral. MDwise is also available to help you find a specialist and assist you in arranging your visit.

Be sure to talk to your primary care provider if you are feeling symptoms related to depression. Together, you can come up with a plan to treat the symptoms.

Helpful Documents

View and print these helpful depression handouts

Depression: Alcohol and Drug Use
Depression and Suicide
Supporting Someone Who Is Depressed
Depression Treatments
Depression, Anxiety, and Physical Health Problems
Depression Overview

There is help if you have thoughts of harming yourself. 

Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number 24 hours a day. This is a free service to anyone that is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. Calls are routed to the nearest crisis center. Call
1-800-273-TALK (8255) today to talk to someone who can help you.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness has resources and help. Call the NAMI helpline at

Compiled from the following sources: American Psychiatric Association Practice Guideline for Major Depressive Disorder.