What Depression Is and What It Isn’t

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide. Despite being a common illness, it is still widely misunderstood. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that the term is often used loosely in everyday language, making it difficult to distinguish between its clinical definition and its casual use. In this article, we’ll explore what depression is and what it isn’t.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mental illness characterized by a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in daily activities. It can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour and overall well-being. Everyone experiences sadness or low feelings occasionally, but depression is different. It persists over time and can interfere with daily life, work, and relationships.

Symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but may include:

  • Sad or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How long these symptoms last and how severe they are can vary by individual. Some people may only experience depression once in their lifetime, while others may have persistent depressive symptoms.

What Isn’t Depression?

Depression is often confused with sadness. However, sadness is a normal emotion that is usually a reaction to a specific event or circumstance, such as the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a disappointment. Unlike depression, sadness is usually temporary, and the intensity of the emotion tends to decrease over time.

Another misconception is that depression is a choice or a sign of weakness. However, depression is a medical condition that is beyond a person’s control. It is not something that can be ‘snapped out of’ or ‘just dealt with’. Anyone can experience depression, regardless of their background, education, or social status.

Types of Depression

There are several types of depression, each with its own set of symptoms and criteria for diagnosis. Some of the most common types include:

Major Depressive Disorder

This type of depression is also called clinical depression or unipolar depression. It is characterized by a persistent depressed mood and lack of interest in activities, along with other symptoms such as fatigue, appetite changes, and sleep disturbances. These symptoms must last longer than two weeks to count as major depressive disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a condition characterized by alternating periods of depression and mania (periods of high energy, impulsivity, and grandiosity). These mood swings can range from extreme highs to extreme lows, and can last for days, weeks or months.


Dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, is a milder form of depression that is characterized by a low mood that lasts for at least two years. Other symptoms may include low self-esteem, difficulty making decisions, and lack of energy.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is influenced by seasonal changes. It typically occurs during the winter months when there is less sunlight, and symptoms may include fatigue, oversleeping, and weight gain.

Causes of Depression

Depression has many causes, and it is often a combination of factors that contribute to its development. Some of the most common causes include:

Biological Factors

Research shows that changes in brain chemistry, hormone imbalances, and genetic factors can all contribute to the development of depression.

Environmental Factors

Stressful life events, such as the loss of a loved one, a job loss, or financial difficulties, can trigger depression. Exposure to violence, abuse or neglect can also increase a person’s risk of developing depression.

Medical Conditions

Chronic medical conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or chronic pain can also contribute to the development of depression.

Treatment for Depression

Treatment for depression depends on the severity of the symptoms and the underlying causes. Some of the most common treatments include:


Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat depression. These medications work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. It is important to remember that antidepressants are not a quick fix, and it can take several weeks for their effects to be felt.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is another common treatment for depression. This involves talking to a mental health professional about your thoughts and feelings, and developing coping strategies to manage the symptoms of depression.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet, can also help to reduce symptoms of depression. Avoiding alcohol and drugs is also important, as these substances can make depression worse.


Depression is a common mental health disorder that can affect anyone, regardless of their background or social status. It is important to understand what depression is and what it is not to help reduce stigma and promote early intervention. There are several types and causes of depression, but treatment options are available. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.


1. What are some common misconceptions about depression?

Depression is often misunderstood as simply feeling sad or down, but it’s much more complex than that. Some people believe that depression is a sign of weakness, and that those who suffer from it should just “snap out of it.” However, depression is a real illness that requires professional treatment. It’s important to understand that depression is not a personal failing or weakness, and seeking help is a sign of strength.

2. Can depression be cured?

While depression can be managed and treated, there is currently no known cure. However, with the right treatment, many people with depression are able to lead fulfilling lives. Treatment may include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. It’s important to work with a mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment for you.

3. What are some signs that someone may be experiencing depression?

Depression can manifest in different ways, but some common symptoms include persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to seek professional help. Depression is a treatable illness, and early intervention can improve outcomes.


1) American Psychological Association. (2020). Depression. https://www.apa.org/topics/depression

2) National Institute of Mental Health. (2019). Depression. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

3) World Health Organization. (2017). Depression. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression