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Depression: An Overview

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What does depression look like? My husband has been unusually withdrawn and seems emotionally "low." His sadness has become a regular part of life in our household, and I'm concerned. What can I do?

Sadness — or depression?

Everyone feels down and sad sometimes. That’s a normal reaction to the disappointments, setbacks, and losses we all experience in life. But clinical depression is a very different kind of emotional and mental challenge. In fact, it can be debilitating and even deadly for those who suffer from it.

Nearly 8 percent of adults and teens in the United States report current feelings of depression. And about 16 percent will experience seasons of depression at some point in their lifetime. Because depression is so widespread, it’s sometimes called “the common cold of mental illness.”

Causes of depression

Clinical depression seems to be connected with a deficiency or imbalance in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain – substances such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Stress also appears to play a role in triggering depression in some individuals.

And genetics are an important factor. Some types of depression tend to run in families, although it can also occur in people who have no family history of the disorder.

Signs and symptoms of depression

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a diagnosis of clinical depression can’t be made unless a patient has at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks. Depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure must be among them:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or significant decrease or increase in appetite
  • Changes in sleep habits, either insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping more than normal)
  • Psychomotor agitation (such as restlessness or fidgeting) or impairment (sluggishness)
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Dealing with depression

The good news is that depression doesn’t last forever. Effective treatments are available, and the sooner individuals get help, the faster their suffering can be resolved.

  • Antidepressant drugs are the primary biological treatment.
  • If antidepressants aren’t effective, therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy might be recommended.
  • Psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals can guide individuals through different kinds of cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, and psychodynamic therapies. For some people, learning new ways to think about a problem, approach a troubled relationship, or take charge of personal behaviors can provide a lot of relief.

Call us for help

If you’d like to talk with a member of our staff, don’t hesitate to call our licensed counselors for a free over-the-phone consultation. They’d be more than happy to speak with you about your concerns. And they can provide referrals to trained therapists in your area.

In the meantime, for more thoughts about depression, you can look at our Counseling department’s information sheet “Depression: A Brief Overview.”


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Depression: A Brief Overview

Focus on the Family’s Mental Health Webpage

Focus on the Family’s Mental Health Resource List

Grace for the Afflicted

How Mental Illness Impacts Families

Dealing With Depression: Article Series

The National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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