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What Is Depression?

Major depression is a serious medical illness affecting 15 million adults in the U.S. Unlike normal sadness or loss, depression is persistent, and can significantly interfere with an individual's functioning. Depression occurs twice as frequently in women as in men. More than half of those individuals who experience a single episode of depression will continue to have episodes that may occur once or twice a year.

Major depression is only one type of depressive disorder. Others include dysthymia (chronic but less severe depression) and bipolar depression (the depressive phase of bipolar illness or manic depression).

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of major depression typically represent a significant change from how a person functioned before the illness and include:

  • persistently sad or irritable mood
  • pronounced changes in sleep, appetite and energy
  • difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • agitation or physical slowing
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness or emptiness
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
  • physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders or chronic pain that do not respond to medical treatment

Recommended Treatment

Without treatment, the frequency of depression and the severity of symptoms can increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. Yet between 80-90% of those who are diagnosed with major depression can be treated effectively.


Interpersonal therapy (focusing on improving troubled personal relationships) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (changing negative thoughts and behaviors associated with depression) have been found highly effective in cases of mild to moderate depression. Severe depression appears more likely to respond to a combination of therapy and medication.


Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's like Zoloft, Prozac and Lexapro), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI's like Effexor and Cymbalta), and the norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor Wellbutrin are commonly used.

Helpful Websites (American Psychological Association)

For more information or an appointment, call  Counseling & Psychological Services
(203) 254-4000 ext. 2146

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