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Questions and Answers About Depression

1. Is depression a mental illness?

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

It is also very common. Major depression 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 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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Recognize the Warning Signs of Suicide

SUICIDE WARNING -- Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or the deaf hotline at 800-799-4889. The best way to minimize the risk of suicide is to know the risk factors and to recognize the warning signs of suicide. Take these signs seriously. Know how to respond to them. It could...

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2. Do children get depression?

Yes. Children are subject to the same factors that cause depression in adults. These include: 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. Many people with substance abuse problems also have major depression.
  • Being socially isolated or excluded from family, friends, or other social groups.

4. Are there any alternatives to the traditional treatments for depression that I can try?

Alternative therapy describes any treatment or technique that has not been scientifically documented or identified as safe or effective for a specific condition. Alternative therapy involves a variety of disciplines that include everything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes. Some of these have been found to be effective for treating depression. Examples of alternative therapies include acupuncture, guided imagery, chiropractic care, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, aromatherapy, relaxation, herbal remedies, massage, and many others. If you are interested in trying any of these options, talk to your doctor.

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