10 FAQs About the Meaning and Course of Depression

Medical Reviewer

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?

Depression ranges from a normal state of sadness lasting a fairly short time to a deep and impairing or paralyzing mood state. These mood states can, in some cases, be life-threatening.

How common is depression?

Sometimes referred to as "the common cold of mental illness," major depression is very common in Westernized cultures, affecting roughly one in five people during their lifetime.

Are men and women equally affected?

Statistics have long indicated that women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression. Across cultures, this appears to be a reasonably stable comparison. However, there is increasing evidence that men hide their symptoms, or manifest symptoms of depression quite differently than women do -- in which case the condition might be appear to be particularly evident in men.

When is depression clinically significant?

A clinician will take into account a number of symptoms and issues when assessing the significance of the condition. However, the bottom line is that if mood, behavior, bodily states and thought processes are affected over a lengthy period of time and interfere with daily living, there is cause for concern, and treatment is likely to be recommended.

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).

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

There is certainly a view that the earlier in life a depressive disorder starts, the more likely the chances that a more severe and recurrent depression will manifest itself.

When does depression typically start?

Depressive disorders typically start in adolescence or young adulthood.

How long does depression last?

In terms of a single episode of depression the answer is that, left untreated, the worst symptoms of depression usually lift after around four to six months. But depression does vary in nature and severity, and treatment (medication and/or cognitive 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.

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.

Learn more about depression and its treatment

Dr. Jerry Kennard is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry's clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.

Updated on: May 10, 2016