10 FAQs About the Meaning and Course of Depression

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For a condition as common — and as potentially devastating — as depression, it is remarkable how many misconceptions and myths still attach to the term itself. For those who suffer from depression in its many guises, its scope and powerful effect on everyday life can be one of most difficult aspects of the disease to convey to family and friends.

For anyone who thinks they might have symptoms of the disease, or anyone with a friend or loved one suffering from depression, here are 10 commonly asked questions about depression, and 10 straightforward answers.

What is the range of mood and behavior experienced by those with depression?

Clinical depression can manifest as feelings of guilt, loss of interest or pleasure, or even a deep and impairing or paralyzing mood state. These mood states can, in some cases, be life-threatening.

How common is depression?

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that between 2013-2016, just over 8 percent of adults in the United States suffered from major depression.

Are men and women equally affected?

That same data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that women were twice as likely as men to experience major depression. Some possible explanations for this gender gap may include the impact of hormonal shifts that women experience related to pregnancy and menopause.

When is depression clinically significant?

A clinician will take into account a number of factors prior to making a diagnosis. For major depression, the depressed mood state and associated symptoms must be present for a period of two weeks and must result in functional impairment. That is, the depressive symptoms negatively impact an individual’s ability to meet expectations socially, professionally, or within the community.

At what age can symptoms of depression start?

Children and adults may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder or dysthymia (a long-term form of depression with somewhat milder symptoms than major depression). Of note, children and adolescents are more likely than adults to present with symptoms of irritability associated with depression.

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Are there any special implications of depression starting early in life?

Early-onset depression that begins in childhood or adolescence is often linked to genetic predisposition. As such, individuals in this category will benefit from learning evidence-based strategies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques, to manage symptoms. In addition, ongoing medical care would be warranted.

When does depression typically start?

Major depression and depression disorders can occur at any age, but the median age of onset is in the early 30s.

How long does depression last?

In terms of a single major depressive episode, the typical length is four to eight months. But depression does vary in nature and severity, and treatment (medication and/or evidence-based therapy, for example) can speed the process of recovery significantly and may protect against further episodes down the road.

Does depression return?

It is by no means inevitable that depression will return, but for some people it can occur regularly and over a lengthy period of time. For adults that have experienced two major depressive episodes, there is an 80 percent chance that a subsequent episode will occur.

Is diagnosing depression easy?

There are many ways for clinicians to assess the nature and severity of depression, but it can also be overlooked during routine exams or consultations. Depression may co-exist with other disorders and it might not present in ways that a clinician immediately recognizes. And, of course, some people are quite adept at masking their depression, which can make diagnosis more difficult than it already is. That being said, there are research based rating scales, such as the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) that quickly and reliably screen for depression if the rater is being open and honest.

Learn more about depression and its treatment