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Questions and Answers About Depression

1. Is depression a mental illness?

Yes, clinical depression is a serious, but treatable, mental illness. It is a medical condition, not a personal weakness.

It is also very common. Major depression is a clinical syndrome that affects about 6.7% of the U.S. population over age 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some estimate that major depression may be as high as 15%. Everybody at one point or another will feel sadness as a normal reaction to loss, grief, or injured self-esteem, but clinical depression, called "major depressive disorder" or "major depression" by doctors, is a serious medical illness that needs professional diagnosis and treatment.

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2. Do children get depression?

Yes. Children are subject to the same factors that cause depression in adults. These include: A change in physical health, life events, heredity, or inheritance, environment, and chemical disturbance in the brain. It is estimated that 2.5% of children in the U.S. suffer from depression. In adolescents, it is estimated to be 4% to 8%.

Depression in children is different from the "normal" blues and everyday emotions that are typical in children of various ages. Children who are depressed experience changes in their behavior that are persistent and disruptive to their normal lifestyle, usually interfering with relationships with friends, schoolwork, special interests, and family life. It may also occur at the same time as (or be hidden by) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or conduct disorder (CD).

3. Can a lack of sleep cause depression?

No. Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. Lack of sleep resulting from another medical illness or the presence of personal problems can intensify depression. Chronic inability to sleep is also an important clue that someone may be depressed.

Common triggers of depression include:

  • Family history of depression.
  • Grief over the loss of a loved one through death, divorce, or separation.
  • Interpersonal disputes.
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
  • Major life events such as moving, graduating or retiring, etc.
  • Serious illness. Major, chronic, and terminal illnesses often contribute to depression. These include cancer, heart disease, stroke, HIV, Parkinson's disease, and others.
  • Substance abuse. Street drugs or heavy alcohol use can cause mood changes that mimic depression or other mood disorders. In addition, some people with substance abuse problems also may have depression, bipolar disorder, or other mood problems even when they are not using mood-altering substances.
  • Being socially isolated or excluded from family, friends, or other social groups.
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