Depression: Depression Glossary

Information and definitions of terms related to depression.

Agoraphobia: Irrational fear of being in public places where escape is difficult or impossible. Common in different types of anxiety disorder.

Acupuncture: An ancient Chinese method of healing. It aims to prevent and cure specific diseases and conditions by sticking very fine, solid needles into specific points on the body.

Anorexia nervosa: An eating disorder in which people have an irrational fear of weight gain and therefore severely restrict their food intake in order to achieve or maintain an abnormally low body weight. The diagnosis of anorexia requires that a person weigh at least 15% less than his or her normal body weight.

Antidepressants: Drugs used to treat depression. Antidepressants are not addictive. They do not make you "high," have a tranquilizing effect or produce cravings for more.

Anticonvulsants: Medicines used to prevent seizures or convulsions, some of which are also used to treat migraine, pain, or symptoms of mania or depression in bipolar disorder.

Anxiety disorder: An illness that produces an intense, often unrealistic and excessive state of apprehension and fear. This may or may not occur during, or in anticipation of, a specific situation and may be accompanied by a rise in blood pressure, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, nausea and other signs of agitation or discomfort.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A common developmental and behavioral disorder characterized by poor concentration, distractibility, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness that are inappropriate for the child's age. Children and adults with ADHD are easily distracted by sights and sounds in their environment, cannot concentrate for long periods of time, are restless and impulsive, or have a tendency to daydream and be slow to complete tasks.

Bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness): A mental illness that causes people to have severe high and low moods. People with this illness recurrently have episodes in which they feel uncharacteristically euphoric or irritable accompanied by high energy and at other times periods of depression in which they feel sad and hopeless. In between these episodes, a person's mood may be normal.


Body dysmorphic disorder: Excessive concern with imagined or exaggerated problems in one's appearance.

Bulimia nervosa: An eating disorder in which people eat large amounts of food at one time (binge) while feeling no sense of control over the amount they're eating, and then make themselves vomit (purge) or use other methods to try to lose weight, such as excessive exercise, fasting, or abuse of laxatives or diuretics. In order to be diagnosed with bulimia, this behavior must occur at least once a week for three months in a row.

Chemical dependency counselors: Health care professionals trained especially to help people with alcohol and drug addiction through the process of recovery. They must hold either an associate's or bachelor's degree, and may also have a master's degree in counseling.

Clinical social workers: Trained health care personnel who hold a master's or doctoral degree in social work. They may provide psychotherapy, case management, and a variety of supportive assistance. One function is often to help patients transition from a hospital or medical institution to home.

Conduct disorder: Disruptive behavior in children marked by repetitive, severe and persistent violation of the rights of others or of age-appropriate social norms or rules. For example, children with conduct disorder are more likely to bully others, disregard parent curfews, and use alcohol and other substances.

Depression: A clinical mood disorder associated with low mood or loss of interest in activities a person once enjoyed and other symptoms that prevent a person from leading a normal life. Types of depression include: major depression, bipolar depression, persistent depressive disorder (including dysthymia and chronic major depression) and depressive disorder with seasonal pattern (formerly called seasonal affective disorder or SAD).

Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern, formerly called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a subtype of major depressive disorder that recurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall or winter and ending in spring or early summer. It is more than just "the winter blues" or "cabin fever." A rare form of depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, known as "summer depression," begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall.


Dysphoric mood: Low mood that may include dissatisfaction, restlessness, or depression.

Dysthymia: Also sometimes referred to as chronic depression, and classified as a type of "persistent depressive disorder." This type of depression occurs most of the time over a period of at least two years in adults and one year in children and adolescents. It is characterized by less severe, lingering symptoms of depression that may last for years.

Eating disorder: Eating disorders are illnesses that cause a person to adopt harmful eating habits. They are most common among teenage girls and women, and frequently occur along with other psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety disorders. The poor nutrition associated with eating disorders can harm organs in the body and, in severe cases, lead to death. The two most common types of eating disorder are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): A procedure in which an electric current is briefly applied to produce a seizure while the patient is asleep under general anesthesia. This is used to treat depressive symptoms that are not responding well to other forms of treatment.

EKG or ECG (electrocardiogram): A recording of the electrical activity of the heart.

Guided imagery: A form of focused relaxation used to create harmony between the mind and body.

Hypochondria: Fear of imagined illnesses or disorders.

Manic depression (bipolar disorder): A mental illness that causes people to have severe high and low moods. People with this illness have episodes in which they feel uncharacteristically euphoric or irritable accompanied by high energy and at other times periods of depression in which they feel sad and hopeless. In between these episodes, a person's mood may be normal.

Major depression: A diagnosis of major depression is made when, in addition to a severely depressed mood, the individual suffers from several other typical associated symptoms involving changes in their sleep, energy, appetite, thinking, and behavior for most of the time during a period of at least two weeks.

Menopause: Menopause is a stage in life when a woman stops having her monthly period. By definition, a woman is menopausal after her periods have stopped for one year. Menopause typically occurs in a woman's late forties to early fifties. It is a normal part of aging, marking the end of a woman's reproductive years. Women who have their ovaries and uterus surgically removed undergo "sudden" menopause.


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): A group of medicines sometimes prescribed to treat severe depression. MAOIs increase the concentration of chemicals responsible for transmitting information between nerves in particular regions of the brain, which may lead to increased mental functioning.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): OCD is a disorder characterized by intense, recurrent, unwanted thoughts and rituals that are beyond the person's control.

Occupational therapists: Health care professionals that teach people how to return to normal activities after injury or illness using therapy and rehabilitation.

Panic disorder: An anxiety illness characterized by attacks of anxiety or terror, often, but not always, occurring unexpectedly and without reason. In general, the attacks last no longer than 15 to 30 minutes.

Phototherapy: Also called light therapy, phototherapy is sometimes used to treat seasonal depression. It involves exposure to light from a box of white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block ultraviolet rays. Light therapy is safe and generally well tolerated. The reported side effects are minor and may include eyestrain, headaches and insomnia.

Postpartum depression: Postpartum depression is a complex mix of physical, emotional and behavioral changes that occur in a mother after giving birth. It is a serious condition, affecting about 10% of new mothers. Symptoms range from mild to severe depression and may appear within days of delivery or gradually, perhaps up to a year later. Symptoms may last from a few weeks to a year.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): The physical and psychological symptoms that occur in the week before a woman's menstrual period. Symptoms may include bloating, headache, irritability, anxiety or depression, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, fatigue and breast swelling and tenderness.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): PMDD is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that affects about 3%-5% of menstruating women. Emotional symptoms of PMDD include shifting moods, severe depression, feelings of hopelessness, anger, anxiety or low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and tension. Physical symptoms include fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle pain, breast tenderness, changes in appetite, food cravings or bingeing, sleep problems and bloating.


Psychiatrists: Medical doctors who specialize in treating mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders. They have completed four years of study in an accredited medical school in combination with four years of postgraduate training in psychiatry, and sometimes additional fellowship training in a particular subspecialty within psychiatry. As medical doctors they can prescribe medications as well as conduct psychotherapy.

Psychologists: Specialists who concentrate in the science of the mind and behavior. They usually have a doctoral degree and receive additional training to work with patients. Psychologists are not medical doctors and cannot prescribe medication in most states in the U.S., but do perform evaluations and use psychotherapy.

Psychosis: An illness that prevents people from being able to distinguish between the real world and the imaginary world. Symptoms include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't really there), delusions (false beliefs), irrational thoughts and fears.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is term used to describe a variety of different talking or behavioral therapies used to treat depression, anxiety and dissatisfaction in life situations. Psychotherapy involves talking to a licensed professional during a scheduled series of appointments. It has proven to be effective in treating mild and moderate forms of depression, and can be combined with drug therapy to treat most, if not all, degrees of depression.

Reflexology: A technique in which a therapist applies pressure to acupuncture points on the ears, hands and feet.

Registered nurses: Health care professionals who are registered and licensed to practice nursing. They have completed nursing school and passed an exam administered by a State Board of Nurse Examiners.

Schizophrenia: A mental illness in which the person suffers from distorted thinking, hallucinations and a reduced ability to feel normal emotions.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): A class of antidepressant drugs that help to increase serotonin, a chemical responsible for communication between nerves in the brain. Representative drugs include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, and Luvox.

Sexual abuse: Abuse of a sexual nature such as rape, incest, and indecent exposure. Sexual abuse can cause various physical and emotional problems including lack of self-esteem, self-destructive behavior, anxiety and depression.


Social phobia: A disorder that results in extreme anxiety in social situations. Those who suffer from social phobia experience intense and disabling self-consciousness in social situations. People with social phobia have an intense and persistent feeling of being watched, judged and evaluated in a negative manner.

St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum): An herbal remedy that may be helpful (although scientific studies have not yet proven it to be definitively useful) for depression. It has been widely used to treat mild to moderate depression in Europe, especially in Germany.

Tourette's syndrome: A neurological disorder beginning in childhood that is characterized by involuntary body movements called tics, and uncontrollable speech.

Trichotillomania: Psychological disorder that produces an uncontrollable desire to pull out one's hair.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants are older antidepressants still commonly used to treat depression or anxiety, and certain forms of neurological pain. They can be very helpful in restoring sleep and appetite. Examples include Elavil, Pamelor, Tofranil and Norpramin.

Violence: To injure or abuse another person or an object with physical force. Can occur in a wide range of psychiatric disorders including depression, drug abuse, trauma reactions, psychosis, personality disorders, and cognitive problems such as dementia.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 09, 2016



Cleveland Clinic: "Glossary of Depression-Related Terms." 

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