What Is Depression If Not A Mental Illness


Depression has long been considered a mental illness, with diagnoses often made based on psychological, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. However, recent research has shown that depression may not only involve these elements but also have a physical basis. This article aims to explore what depression is if not just a mental illness.

The Physical and Chemical Basis of Depression

While the causes of depression are not entirely clear, studies have shown that it can be related to chemical imbalances in the brain that affect mood regulation. The brain typically produces neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, which help regulate mood, but in people with depression, there can be less of these chemicals produced.

There are also studies that point towards other physical factors that affect depression, such as hormone imbalances, thyroid disorders, and inflammation. According to researchers at King’s College London, people with depression have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies, indicating a potential immune system response in people with the condition.

The Role of Genetics

Depression also appears to have a genetic basis. Research has shown that genetic factors play a considerable role in the likelihood of developing depression. For instance, some people may have genetic variations that predispose them to periods of low mood that are severe enough to be considered depression. The genetic aspect of depression can also help explain why some people are more prone to the illness than others.

Depression as A Symptom

In some cases, depression is not a stand-alone disorder but a symptom of underlying medical conditions. These medical conditions can range from physical illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, or neurological conditions to psychological disorders such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, almost half of people diagnosed with depression may have a co-existing mental health condition such as anxiety, and around twenty percent will have a substance abuse disorder. Depression can occur as a symptom of other conditions or as a side effect of certain medications.

The Impact of Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as stress, trauma, abuse, social isolation, and poverty have also been found to contribute to depression. The impact of these factors can vary among people, and the exact cause may be challenging to pinpoint.

While not every person who faces these environmental factors will develop depression, they may increase the likelihood of it occurring. Stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one or financial difficulties, can trigger new episodes of depression in people who are susceptible to the illness.


Depression is a complex illness that can occur for various reasons, with many physical, psychological, and social factors contributing to its development. Whether depression is a mental illness or not is still up for debate, but it is clear that it is not solely a psychological illness.

Given its complexity, treating depression requires an individualized approach that considers all factors, psychological and physical. Treatment options can include a combination of medication and talking therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy.

Many people with depression experience significant improvement with treatment, and some can even make a full recovery. With proper care, support, and self-care, people living with depression can manage their illness and improve their quality of life.


FAQ 1: Is depression a mental illness?

Yes, depression is a mental illness. It is a mood disorder that affects a person’s emotional state, thoughts, and behavior. Depression can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities that a person enjoyed before. It is a serious condition that can affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.

FAQ 2: How is depression different from feeling sad or down?

Sadness and feeling down are normal reactions to life’s struggles and challenges. These feelings are temporary and usually resolve themselves without treatment. Depression, on the other hand, is a prolonged state of sadness and a persistent feeling of hopelessness that affects the person’s ability to function normally. Depression is a medical condition that requires professional treatment.

FAQ 3: Can depression be treated without medication?

Yes, depression can be treated without medication. Treatment options include psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, where a therapist helps the person to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression. Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can also help to alleviate depression symptoms. In severe cases, medication may be prescribed in combination with therapy. It is important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression.


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