Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent Depressive Disorder is also called dysthymia and is a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.

Postpartum Depression 

This type of depression is much more serious than the “baby blues” (relatively mild depressive and anxiety symptoms that typically clear within two weeks after delivery) that many women experience after giving birth. Women with postpartum depression experience full-blown major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression). The feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that accompany postpartum depression may make it difficult for these new mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves and/or for their babies.

Psychotic Depression

This occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false fixed beliefs (delusions) or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations). The psychotic symptoms typically have a depressive “theme,” such as delusions of guilt, poverty, or illness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

This type of depression is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Winter depression, typically accompanied by social withdrawal, increased sleep, and weight gain, predictably returns every year in seasonal affective disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is included in this list is because someone with bipolar disorder  can experience episodes of extremely low moods that meet the criteria for major depression (called “bipolar depression”). But a person with bipolar disorder also experiences extreme high – euphoric or irritable – moods called “mania” or a less severe form called “hypomania.”

Examples of other types of depressive disorders newly added to the diagnostic classification of DSM-5 include disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (diagnosed in children and adolescents) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many. Several persistent symptoms in addition to low mood are required for a diagnosis of major depression, but people with only a few – but distressing – symptoms may benefit from treatment of their “subsyndromal” depression. The severity and frequency of symptoms and how long they last will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of the illness.

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in adulthood. Depression is now recognized as occurring in children and adolescents, although it sometimes presents with more prominent irritability than low mood. Many chronic mood and anxiety disorders in adults begin as high levels of anxiety in children.

Depression, especially in midlife or older adults, can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are often worse when depression is present. Sometimes medications taken for these physical illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression. A doctor experienced in treating these complicated illnesses can help work out the best treatment strategy.

Risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of depression
  • Major life changes, trauma, or stress
  • Certain physical illnesses and medications

Depression, even the most severe cases, can be treated. The earlier that treatment can begin, the more effective it is. Depression is usually treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. If these treatments do not reduce symptoms, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and other brain stimulation therapies may be options to explore.

Quick Tip: No two people are affected the same way by depression and there is no “one-size-fits-all” for treatment. It may take some trial and error to find the treatment that works best for you.

Several types of psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy” or, in a less specific form, counseling) can help people with depression. Examples of evidence-based approaches specific to the treatment of depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and problem-solving therapy.

More information on psychotherapy is available on the NIMH website and in the NIMH publication Depression: What You Need to Know.

Here are other tips that may help you or a loved one during treatment for depression:

  • Try to be active and exercise.
  • Set realistic goals for yourself.
  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
  • Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced, or changing jobs until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Continue to educate yourself about depression.

If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 911.

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Learn More

  1. Chronic Illness & Mental Health: This brochure discusses chronic illnesses and depression, including symptoms, health effects, treatment, and recovery.
  2. Depression and College Students: This brochure describes depression, treatment options, and how it affects college students.
  3. Depression and Older Adults: Depression is not a normal part of aging. This brochure describes the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for depression in older adults.
  4. Depression: What You Need to Know: This booklet contains information on depression including signs and symptoms, treatment and support options, and a listing of additional resources.
  5. Postpartum Depression Facts: A brochure on postpartum depression that explains its causes, symptoms, treatments, and how to get help.
  6. Teen Depression: This flier for teens describes depression and how it differs from regular sadness. It also describes symptoms, causes, and treatments, with information on getting help and coping.
  1. Watch: “Baby Blues” – or Postpartum Depression?
    This video provides patient testimony and information on the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and reinforces the importance of seeking help and treatment from a health professional.
  2. Watch: One Woman’s Experience With Depression
    This video by the National Institute on Aging tells the story of an older woman who struggled for years with depression, but who is now in recovery. For more on older adults and depression, visit the “Depression” topic on NIHSeniorHealth at nihseniorhealth.gov.

Federal Resources

Research and Statistics

  • Journal Articles: This webpage provides information on references and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine).
  • Statistics: Major Depression: This webpage provides information on the statistics currently available on the prevalence and treatment of depression among people in the U.S.

Information courtesy of: National Institute of Mental Health : https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/index.shtml