Psychology facts about depression


12 Surprising Facts About Depression

Depression is often misunderstood as just feeling sad. But it’s a complex condition, and the facts about depression, depression symptoms, and depression management might surprise you.

What Is Depression?

Doctors diagnose major depression (also called major depressive disorder) based on criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V. A depression diagnosis is made when at least five of the following symptoms occur nearly every day for at least two weeks:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of pleasure in all or most activities
  • Significant weight change or change in appetite
  • Change in sleep
  • Change in activity
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Diminished concentration
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Suicidality

In order to diagnose major depression, either depressed mood or loss of pleasure in activities must be one of the symptoms.

12 Things You Might Not Know About Depression

While the definition of major depression may seem simple enough, depression has profound and varying impacts. Here are some surprising facts:

  1. Depression has different triggers. People have a higher risk of depression if they’ve recently been through a stressful life event, if they’ve had depression in the past, or if a close family member has been depressed. Sometimes depression develops without any obvious cause.
  2. Genes provide some (but not all) of the answers. The genetic predisposition to depression is becoming better understood and might explain why one person becomes depressed and another doesn’t, says Ole Thienhaus, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson. A family history of depression matters, but it’s not always the only factor. For example, identical twins — siblings who have exactly the same genes — will both develop depression only about 30 percent of the time, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  3. Depression affects the body. Headache, stomach problems, shortness of breath, and general physical tension can all be symptoms of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
  4. Depression might be a “gut feeling.” A complicated relationship between the brain, the central nervous system, and the “good” bacteria in the gut could contribute to depression, according to a review of research published in January 2016 in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. A varied diet that includes probiotics and prebiotics may play a role in managing depression, the researchers theorize.
  5. Depressed brains look different. Imaging studies of the brain can show some of the structures and brain circuits that work differently when a person is depressed, says a review of research published in June 2015 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
  6. Depression is linked to other health problems. People with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis may also have a higher risk of depression.
  7. Depressed people might not look depressed. “Depression is a hidden illness,” says Jeremy Coplan, MD, professor of psychiatry at SUNY Downstate in New York. Some people can seem upbeat and cheerful, but inside they’re struggling with the symptoms of depression.
  8. Exercise helps manage depression. “Exercise improves mood state,” Dr. Thienhaus says. He explains that exercise helps stimulate natural compounds in the body that can make you feel better. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days. “We typically recommend that people with depression exercise, develop a healthy diet, and go to bed at a regular time.”
  9. More than one antidepressant medication may be needed. Many people with depression don’t get relief from their first or second antidepressant. People who take a second medication without relief are considered to have treatment-resistant depression, Dr. Coplan says. His research, published in May 2014 in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, suggests that for some depressed people, the physiology of their brains means that certain antidepressant medications won’t work to treat depression or must be used in combination with other medications to achieve and maintain relief.
  10. Therapy is needed, too. Sometimes antidepressant medications will be used first to alleviate depression enough for therapy to be helpful, Coplan says. But psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or other therapeutic strategies like transcranial magnetic stimulation are also needed for effective depression treatment.
  11. Warming up could help. People who are depressed may have an altered thermoregulatory system. Exposure to heat may have potential as a sort of antidepressant, says Charles Raison, MD, professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison. More research is needed, but hot yoga, a warm bath or shower, saunas, and hot tubs are low-cost ways to try this for yourself.
  12. Depression is a leading cause of disability. The World Health Organization considers depression to be a leading cause of disability worldwide. “People routinely say that depression is the worst thing that’s happened to them,” Coplan says. “And the reason that’s offered is that their brains don’t work properly. They can’t make decisions and they aren’t sure of themselves — everything requires huge mental effort.”


Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression is the most common mental disorder. Fortunately, depression is treatable. A combination of therapy and antidepressant medication can help ensure recovery.

Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Psychology

What You Can Do

  • Seek the right kind of social support

    Social isolation increases the risk of depression. But it turns out that spending too much time discussing problems with friends could actually increase depression as well.

  • Exercise Helps Keep Your Psyche Fit

    Exercise is an effective, cost-effective treatment for depression and may help in the treatment of other mental disorders.

Getting Help

  • Depression and How Psychotherapy and Other Treatments Can Help People Recover

    Depression is a real illness and carries with it a high cost in terms of relationship problems, family suffering and lost work productivity. Yet, depression is a highly treatable illness, with psychotherapy, coping and cognitive-behavioral techniques, and medication.


  • Smokers may be at greater risk of depression and schizophrenia

    November 6, 2019, CNN

  • ‘Magic mushroom’ ingredient could be used to treat depression

    December 13, 2019, CNN

  • Program aims to help men talk about mental health

    January 9, 2020, Today

  • As menopause nears, depression and anxiety can be triggeredcwydscbfzasfavtv

    January 16, 2020, NPR

Related APA Publications

Showing 1-6 of 5

Depression: Facts, Statistics, and You

Sadness and grief are normal human emotions. We all have those feelings from time to time but they usually go away within a few days. Major depression, or major depressive disorder, however, is something more. It’s a diagnosable condition that’s classified as a mood disorder and can bring about long-lasting symptoms such as overwhelming sadness, low energy, loss of appetite, and a lack of interest in things that used to bring pleasure.

Left untreated, depression can lead to serious health complications, including putting your life at risk. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for depression through options like therapy, medication, diet, and exercise.

Types of depression

Specific circumstances can trigger other forms of depression or subsets of the condition.

Major depressive disorder

It’s estimated that 16.2 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent of American adults, have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year.

Persistent depressive disorder

You may have a single bout of major depression or you can have recurring episodes. Persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymia, is chronic low-level depression that’s lower in severity than major depression and lasts two years or longer. These ongoing feelings of deep sadness and hopelessness, in addition to other symptoms such as low energy and indecision, occurs in 1.5 percent of U.S. adults in a given year. It is more prevalent in women than men, and half of all cases are considered serious.

Bipolar disorder

Another type of depression is bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive disorder and affects about 2.8 percent of the U.S. population in a given year. It occurs equally in men and women, while 83 percent of cases are considered severe.

The disorder involves the development of a manic, or energized mood, episode. Sometimes, these may be preceded or followed by episodes of depression. The presence of these episodes is what determines which type of bipolar disorder is diagnosed.

Seasonal depression

If you have major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, also known as seasonal affective disorder, your mood is affected by seasonal changes. The condition occurs in up to 5 percent of the U.S. population in a given year. Seasonal depression is typically triggered by the onset of autumn and lasts throughout the winter and it very rarely occurs in summer and spring.

Geography and distance from the equator play significant roles in this disorder. Women also represent 4 out of 5 people with the condition.

Postpartum depression

As much as 80 percent of new mothers experience the “baby blues” and symptoms include mood swings, sadness, and fatigue. These feelings usually pass within a week or two.

It’s caused by hormonal changes following childbirth, lack of sleep, and the pressures of taking care of a new baby. When these symptoms persist longer than a couple weeks and severity escalates, it may be a sign of a major depressive disorder with peripartum onset, also known as postpartum depression.

Additional symptoms include withdrawal, lack of appetite, and a negative train of thought. According to the American Psychological Association, about 10 to 15 percent of U.S. women have a depressive episode within three months of childbirth. One in five new mothers experience minor depressive episodes, and as many as 10 percent of new fathers may experience this condition, too.

Dr. Christina Hibbert, award-winning author and clinical psychologist, calls this “a familial disease.” Left untreated, it can be dangerous for parents and baby.

Psychotic depression

When major depression or bipolar disorder are accompanied by hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia, it’s called major depressive disorder with psychotic features. About 25 percent of patients who are admitted to a hospital due to depression actually have psychotic depression. 1 in 13 people worldwide will experience a psychotic episode before age 75.

Prevalence of depression

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 16.2 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2016. This represents 6.7 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Depression is most common in ages 18 to 25 (10.9 percent) and in individuals belonging to two or more races (10.5 percent). Women are twice as likely as men to have had a depressive episode, according to the NIMH and the World Health Organization (WHO). From 2013 to 2016, 10.4 percent of women were found to have depression, compared with 5.5 percent of men, according to the CDC.

The WHO estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s also the world’s leading cause of disability.

Symptoms of depression

You may have depression if feelings of sadness or emptiness don’t go away within a couple of weeks. Other emotional symptoms include:

  • extreme irritability over seemingly minor things
  • anxiety and restlessness
  • trouble with anger management
  • loss of interest in activities, including sex
  • fixation on the past or on things that have gone wrong
  • thoughts of death or suicide

Suicide prevention

  • If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
  • •  Call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • •  Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • •  Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
  • •  Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
  • If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Physical symptoms include:

  • insomnia or oversleeping
  • debilitating fatigue
  • increased or decreased appetite
  • weight gain or loss
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • unexplained aches and pains

In children and adolescents, depression may cause low self-esteem and guilt, poor concentration, and frequent absence from school.

Depression may be difficult to spot in older adults. Unexplained memory loss, sleep problems, or withdrawal could be signs of depression or Alzheimer’s disease.

Causes and risk factors for depression

There’s no single cause of depression. Brain chemistry, hormones, and genetics may all play a role. Other risk factors for depression include:

  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
  • physical or sexual abuse
  • chronic diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or cancer
  • alcohol or drug use disorders
  • certain prescription medications
  • family history of depression
  • age, gender, race, and geography

Diagnosing depression

If you or someone you know has symptoms of depression, your doctor can help. Make an appointment if symptoms last more than two weeks. It’s important that you report all symptoms. A physical exam and blood tests can rule out health problems that can be similar to or contribute to depression.

A diagnosis of depression usually requires symptoms to occur for two weeks or more. According to the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnosis must also include four other changes in functioning. These may involve:

  • disruption of sleep or eating
  • lack of energy or concentration
  • problems with self-image
  • thoughts of suicide

Treatment of depression

Clinical depression is treatable. Though, according to the WHO, less than 50 percent of those worldwide with depression receive treatment.

The most common treatment methods are antidepressant medications and psychological counseling. In adults with moderate to severe depression, 40 to 60 people out of 100 who took antidepressants noticed improved symptoms after six to eight weeks. This was compared with 20 to 40 people out of 100 who noticed improvement with just a placebo.

The American Psychiatric Association suggests that a combination of both antidepressants and psychological counseling is, on average, more effective. But, each treatment on their own have roughly the same effectiveness. Accessing these two treatments, however, isn’t always possible for individuals due to a number of factors such as cost and time.

According to a 2013 study, therapy had a lower rate of relapse at the one- to two-year follow-up. Psychotherapy was found to have a significantly lower rate of relapse (26.5 percent) than medications (56.6 percent). The study also found that psychotherapy had lower dropout rates than medication regimens.

If those treatments don’t work, another option is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. This method uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the parts of your brain that regulate mood. Treatments are usually administered five days a week for six weeks.

Psychotherapy and medication (including vitamin D) also work for seasonal depression. This condition can also be treated with light therapy. Seasonal depression can sometimes improve on its own during the spring and summer months when daylight hours are longer.

Shop for light therapy products.

For severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used. ECT is a procedure in which electrical currents are passed through the brain. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, ECT is used most often to treat depression and psychotic depression that hasn’t otherwise responded to medications.


Prolonged or chronic depression can have a devastating impact on your emotional and physical health. Untreated, it may put your life at risk. Mental Health America reports that 30 to 70 percent of those who have died by suicide have depression or bipolar disorder. Other complications of depression can lead to:

  • alcohol or drug use disorder
  • headaches and other chronic aches and pains
  • phobias, panic disorders, and anxiety attacks
  • trouble with school or work
  • family and relationship problems
  • social isolation
  • excess weight or obesity due to eating disorders, raising the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • self-mutilation
  • attempted suicide or suicide

Major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression in Australia.

A major depressive disorder is a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, together with four or more of the following (nearly every day):

  • significant weight loss or gain
  • reduced appetite
  • insomnia (can’t sleep) or hypersomnia (too much sleep)
  • either psychomotor agitation (restlessness) or conversely, a slowing down of thoughts and reduced physical movement
  • fatigue, less energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • reduced ability to concentrate, indecisiveness
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts.

There are different severities of major depressive disorder


Although some of these symptoms and stress is evident, the disorder leads to only ‘minor impairment of social or occupational functioning’.


Symptoms lie somewhere between mild and severe.


Many symptoms are present. The ‘intensity of symptoms is seriously distressing and unmanageable’.

In severe major depressive disorder, these symptoms cause marked interference with occupational and social functioning’.

A stepped care approach to treating major depressive disorder

Clinicians and researchers from the Black Dog Institute have developed a ‘stepped care approach’ to treating patients with major depressive disorder.

Essentially, it involves managing patients according to how severe their depression is when they first see their doctor.

Care is ‘stepped up’ if the initial treatment is not providing a sufficient response. Read more about treatments for depression.


Help your doctor to help you

Help your doctor to help you by giving as much information as possible. We all know what it’s like to leave a doctor’s surgery and remember something we forgot to say. Make sure this doesn’t happen by writing down a list of key facts beforehand and taking it with you, for example:

  • The exact symptoms concerning you.
  • How long you have been experiencing the symptoms.
  • Any events associated with the Depression.
  • If your sleep or work are being affected.
  • Any physical symptoms, or other illnesses for which you are being treated.

It is also useful to ask for a longer appointment, giving you both time to talk without pressure.
If you find your doctor is not very helpful, try to discuss this with them, and go to another doctor if necessary.

How do psychological treatments help?

For people with mild to moderate Depression, psychological therapy is often the most effective treatment, either alone or in combination with antidepressant medication. These therapies include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), among others.
For further information, see the ‘Psychological treatments’ section in the Medication and other Treatments guide.

Do I really need to take medication?

For most people, the most effective treatment for Depression is psychological therapy. However, antidepressant medication can also be helpful, either short-term, or sometimes on an ongoing basis.

How medication works

Medical research suggests that Depression seems to be often associated with a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Just as people with diabetes may need to take insulin, so people with Depression may need to take medication to restore the chemical balance in the brain and so reduce symptoms.
Antidepressants are effective for most people, although a few medications may need to be tried by the doctor to find the one which is most helpful.
Tell the doctor if you are taking other medications, and take the tablets exactly when the prescription describes. If you have any questions, ask the doctor or pharmacist.
See the Guide to Medication and other Treatments for more information about antidepressant medications.

Misconceptions about antidepressant medication

There are a number of misconceptions about antidepressant medication, which can unfortunately discourage some people from getting help in this way.
For example, some believe that antidepressants are addictive, that they are dangerous, or that they put you into an unreal ‘dreamy’ state.
The fact is that medications in the new generation of antidepressants are not addictive, are generally safer in overdose than older antidepressants, and are certainly not the ‘happy drugs’ often portrayed in the media – they simply help restore your mood back to normal.

How long does it take for antidepressants to take effect?

It usually takes a few weeks for antidepressant medication to have a beneficial effect, and this effect should increase over the following weeks.
You may experience some side-effects, such as a dry mouth or stomach upset – these are normal and show the medication is starting to have an effect.
Side-effects generally fade away with time. If they don’t, or are causing you concern, always tell the doctor so that action can be taken to deal with them.

What about herbal products?

Some people find herbal products, such as St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), helpful for Depression. If you wish to take such products, remember that they have side-effects of their own and can interact dangerously with prescribed medications. Always consult with your doctor before taking them.

How does ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) help?

ECT can be a highly effective treatment for moderate to severe Depression where: other treatments have not helped, if the person has responded well to ECT in the past, or because they are at risk and a rapid response is required.
ECT (sometimes called ‘shock treatment’) is used more sensitively and effectively than in the past. It should be given only after the treatment has been fully explained to the person involved, and any questions have been satisfactorily answered.
ECT is generally given only with the person’s consent. If someone is extremely ill and their psychiatrist believes they are unable to give informed consent, then the psychiatrist can consent for them, with certain conditions.

What does ECT involve?

This form of treatment involves giving a general anaesthetic and muscle-relaxant, after which an electrical current is passed through the brain.
Any side-effects, such as headache or mild loss of memory, are usually temporary and pass after a while.

What other support is there?

There are other support services which offer help for people with Depression.

Community mental health services

Some people with Depression find it helpful to meet with others who have the same diagnosis, and had similar experiences – at support groups in their local area or online.
As well as overcoming isolation, this can be a useful way of sharing information about things that help, and getting together to advocate for improved services.

Other support services

In addition to community mental health services, there is a range of other support services which can help those who have been severely affected by mental illnesses, including Depression. This includes support with accommodation, psychosocial rehabilitation, recreation and employment, as well as support for family and other carers too.
Some States and Territories offer more of this type of support than others. Metropolitan areas also tend to have more services available than rural areas.
Enquire at the mental health service or council office about programs offered locally, and ask others what services they would recommend.

Related information:

  • See the ‘Support in the community section’ in the Medication and other Treatments guide.
  • For more information about services in your area, contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263).

Overcoming depression:

Everyone experiences sadness at times. But depression is something more. Depression is extreme sadness or despair that lasts more than days. It interferes with the activities of daily life and can even cause physical pain. Fortunately, depression is highly treatable.

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In 2014, an estimated 15.7 million adults in the U.S. — about 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults — had at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Understanding Depression

Depression affects different people in different ways, but most of them experience some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Prolonged sadness or feelings of emptiness.
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
  • Anger and irritability.
  • Restlessness.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Fatigue.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Chronic pain, headaches or stomachaches.
  • Loss of interest in activities.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, social and environmental factors. People who have a family history of depression, and people with serious chronic diseases such as heart disease or cancer, are at an increased risk of depression. Major life changes, trauma and stress can also bring about an episode of depression, although some episodes of depression begin without any obvious external cause.

Treatment for Depression

Depression isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s not something you can just “snap out of.” It’s an illness that requires professional treatment. Yet with the right care, people can feel better.

Antidepressant medications can be helpful for reducing depression symptoms in some people, especially in people with severe depression. Psychotherapy is also an effective treatment, either alone or in combination with medications. The benefits of psychotherapy may have an enduring effect that protects against symptoms returning even after treatment is ended.

Seeing a Psychologist About Depression

Licensed psychologists are highly trained mental health professionals with experience in helping patients recover from depression. Several different approaches to psychotherapy have been shown to help individuals recover from depression, especially those with mild to moderate depression. Psychotherapy can help people with depression to:

  • Pinpoint life events that contribute to their depression and help them find ways to change, accept or adapt to those situations.
  • Set realistic goals for the future.
  • Identify distorted thought processes or unhelpful behaviors that contribute to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Develop skills to cope with symptoms and problems, and identify or prevent future episodes of depression.

Two of the most common evidence-based therapies for depression are cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy in which patients learn to identify and manage negative thought and behavior patterns that can contribute to their depression. CBT helps patients identify unhelpful or negative thinking, change inaccurate beliefs, change behaviors that might make depression worse, and interact with others in more positive ways.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a form of therapy in which patients learn to improve their relationships with others by better expressing their emotions and solving problems in healthier ways. IPT helps patients resolve or adapt to troubling life events, build social skills and organize their relationships to increase support for coping with depressive symptoms and life stressors.

There is no one “right” approach to therapy. Therapists work closely with their patients to create tailored treatment plans to address their unique needs and concerns. Psychotherapy can help patients learn ways to better cope with stress and manage their symptoms of depression. These strategies can lead to recovery and enable patients to function at their best.

To find a licensed psychologist in your area, use our Psychologist Locator.

Depression in Children and Adolescents

Depression is common in adolescents. In 2014, an estimated 2.8 million children age 12-17 in the U.S. (more than 11 percent) had at least one major depressive episode, according to NIMH.

Adolescents are often moody. But if your child is extremely irritable, has ongoing problems with motivation, or has persistent sadness that lasts two weeks or more, it’s a good idea to have him or her evaluated for depression.

While antidepressant medications can be effective for children and adolescents, they can have side effects in young people, including an increased risk of suicidal thoughts. For that reason, many parents and healthcare providers prefer to try treating children with psychotherapy first. Both CBT and IPT are effective treatments for young people with depression. Studies also show that a combination of antidepressant medication and cognitive behavior therapy is highly effective in treating youth depression.

The good news is that most kids recover from depression. Still, research shows that people who have depression as children are at a higher risk of having a recurrence later in adolescence or adulthood. Both CBT and IPT can help kids recognize the signs of a depressive episode, so that they can monitor their symptoms and get help quickly if they experience a recurrence.

The American Psychological Association gratefully acknowledges Laura Mufson, PhD, Lynn Bufka, PhD, and C. Vaile Wright, PhD for contributing to this fact sheet.

Published October 2016

1. Depression is more than feeling sad.

Everyone feels sad occasionally about different things – and not just young people. But when we talk about depression, we’re talking about something that’s much more serious than just being sad. It’s when a person feels a sadness so severe that it interferes with their daily life and causes symptoms such as loss of appetite, sleeping issues, loss of concentration and/or low energy levels. If any of these symptoms last longer than two weeks, there’s probably something more serious going on than just feeling sad.

2. Sometimes, talking about depression isn’t enough.

Talking with friends and family is a great way to deal with the day-to- day ups and downs of life. But when it comes to depression, things are a bit more complicated. Depression is an illness that often requires treatment from professionals trained to deal with its causes and symptoms. Talking about how you feel with a trusted friend or family member may help in the short term, but the seriousness of depression shouldn’t be ignored. Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists can provide treatments and self-management strategies, which your family can’t do.

3. Depression can affect anyone, at any time.

While it’s true that depression can start following a tough period, such as a bad break-up or the loss of a job, it’s not always the case. Depression can develop due to other factors, such as genetics or chemical imbalances that occur in the brain, or negative thinking patterns. This is why depression can affect anyone at any time, regardless of what’s going on in their life.

4. Getting help can be really hard.

Depression can make a person feel completely helpless and drain them of the energy they need to ask for help. If you’re worried about a friend or a loved one, you can offer support by encouraging them to speak to a health professional or an adult they trust. If they’re not able to do it on their own, ask for their permission to talk to an adult they trust on their behalf. If they refuse, and you’re still really concerned, consider talking to an adult you trust, such as a teacher, parent or school counsellor.

5. There are many options to treat depression.

Depending on the severity and cause of the depression, different treatment methods may be recommended. For mild to moderate depression, the first choice of treatment should be psychological therapy. But, if your depression is severe, your doctor might prescribe medication to help you manage.

Look for a doctor you feel comfortable with, but keep in mind that it’s quite common to see several doctors before you find one you’re happy with. It’s important that you get along with and trust your doctor, so that you can work together on a treatment plan to keep you well.

6. People don’t choose to have depression.

People don’t choose to be depressed, in the same way that people don’t choose to have cancer. So, telling a person with depression to just ‘get a grip’ is more harmful than helpful. If they could, people with depression would choose to stop feeling that way.

Depression can be treated with the right help from mental health professionals; however, recovery takes time and will involve lots of ups and downs. If you notice someone displaying symptoms of depression, ask them how you can help, encourage them to get support, and remind them that what they’re going through is not their fault or their choice.

7. Depression is not a sign of weakness.

The belief that depression is a sign of weakness is a harmful misconception. If you think about it, it doesn’t make much logical sense. Depression can affect all different kinds of people, even those who are traditionally considered to be ‘strong’ or who have no obvious reason to be depressed. The connection that’s assumed between weakness and depression makes it difficult for people with this form of illness to get the help they need. That’s why it’s important to break down the stigma around mental illness and to reinforce the fact that depression and other mental illnesses aren’t the result of a lack of willpower. In fact, the opposite is true, as living with and recovering from depression takes a lot of personal strength.

7 Surprising Facts About Depression

  • 1

    Almost one in five Americans will suffer from a bout of depression at some point in their lives. Even if you haven’t experienced depression, you probably know someone who has. Here are some facts about depression that everyone should know.

    Depression can be a complex condition.×388/quality/75/?

  • 2

    Women are 70% more likely to experience depression than men. Hormones are partly to blame. Women are more likely to be depressed during and after pregnancy because of the hormonal shifts related to pregnancy and childbirth. The combined stress of work and family responsibilities may also play a role. Part of the difference between men and women though is that women are more likely to tell their doctors about their symptoms and seek help.

    1. Women are more likely to be depressed than men.×388/quality/75/?

  • 3

    Experts believe that about 50% of depression stems from genetics. This probably doesn’t come from just one gene but a combination. But, if you have a parent or sibling with depression, your risk is two to three times greater than it is for someone without this family history. The more severe the depression, the more likely the link to genetics. Other causes include child abuse, loss of a parent early in life, and severe stress. However, often the cause is not known.

    2. Your genes play a role.×388/quality/75/?

  • 4

    Up to 50% of people diagnosed with major depression don’t get better with their initial treatment. Doctors even have a term for this: treatment-resistant depression. That refers to depression that doesn’t improve after six weeks of treatment. Experts think that genes may be strongly involved when people have treatment-resistant depression. In many cases, changing or adding a medication can help.

    3. You might not respond to the first treatment.×388/quality/75/?

  • 5

    Talking through your depression with a mental health expert (called psychotherapy) helps many people. For some, it works as well as taking antidepressants. In fact, for mild to moderate depression, talk therapy may be your best option. If you do need an antidepressant, many studies show that combining medication and psychotherapy is better than medication alone. Also, talk therapy may be the safest treatment for women who get depressed while pregnant or breastfeeding.

    4. Talk therapy can work as well as medication.×388/quality/75/?

  • 6

    A severe type of depression can cause you to hear, see or believe things that are not real. This is psychotic depression. For instance, people with psychotic depression might hear voices or think the government is after them. About 20% of people with major depression have these symptoms. If you have a family history of depression, you may be at greater risk for psychotic depression. Doctors often use shock treatments to treat this type of severe depression because they work faster than antidepressants.

    5. Depression can cause hallucinations.×388/quality/75/?

  • 7

    Magnetic pulses are one of the newest ways to treat depression. The pulses go through a coil placed against your head. The name for this treatment is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. You don’t need anesthesia. All you feel is a slight tapping. Each session lasts 30 to 60 minutes. Your doctor may prescribe 20 or more sessions over a 4- to 6-week period. This treatment is for people who don’t respond to antidepressant medication.

    6. Magnets might relieve depression.×388/quality/75/?

  • 8

    About 1 in 30 young children get depressed. One sign of this is withdrawal from friends and activities. Kids who are depressed also might start doing poorly in school. They often become irritable or have physical complaints. These symptoms often are missed. Adults think the problem is something else. That’s why two-thirds of children with mental health problems don’t get help. But, treating depression works in kids, just like it does in adults.

    7. Children also get depressed.×388/quality/75/?

Facts & Statistics

Did You Know?

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.

Anxiety and Depression

It’s not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Find out more about depression.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD often co-occurs with major depression.

Panic Disorder (PD)
PD affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.

Social Anxiety Disorder
SAD affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
SAD is equally common among men and women andtypically begins around age 13. According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.

Specific Phobias
Specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Symptoms typically begin in childhood; the average age-of-onset is 7 years old.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time, along with depression.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD affects 2.2 million adults, or 1.0% of the U.S. population.
OCD is equally common among men and women.
The average age of onset is 19, with 25 percent of cases occurring by age 14. One-third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population.
Women are more likely to be affected than men.
Rape is the most likely trigger of PTSD: 65% of men and 45.9% of women who are raped will develop the disorder.
Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing PTSD.

Major Depressive Disorder
The leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.
MDD affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7%of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.5 years old.
More prevalent in women than in men.

Persistent depressive disorder, or PDD, (formerly called dysthymia) is a form of depression that usually continues for at least two years.
Affects approximately 1.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. (about 3.3 million American adults). Only 61.7% of adults with MDD are receiving treatment. The average age of onset is 31 years old.

(Source: National Institute of Mental Health)

Related Illnesses
Many people with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring disorder or physical illness, which can make their symptoms worse and recovery more difficult. It’s essential to be treated for both disorders.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time, along with depression.

Read on to learn more about the co-occurrence of anxiety and these disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Adult ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactive disorder)
  • BDD (body dysmorphic disorder)
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Stress

Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.

  • See statistics for anxiety disorders among children from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Anxiety disorders also often co-occur with other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

  • Childhood anxiety disorders
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Treatment
  • Tips for parents and caregivers
  • Anxiety disorders at school
  • School refusal

Older Adults
Anxiety is as common among older adults as among the young. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder among older adults, though anxiety disorders in this population are frequently associated with traumatic events such as a fall or acute illness. Read the best way to treat anxiety disorders in older adults.

Worldwide Statistics

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Almost 75% of people with mental disorders remain untreated in developing countries with almost 1 million people taking their lives each year. In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 13 globally suffers from anxiety. The WHO reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide with specific phobia, major depressive disorder and social phobia being the most common anxiety disorders.2

Treatment Options

Anxiety disorders are treatable, and the vast majority of people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care. Several standard approaches have proved effective:

  • Therapy
  • Medication
  • Complementary and alternative treatment
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Learn about online therapy at


  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • World Health Organization: Mental Health

— — intro: You regularly ransack the house to find your keys. You suddenly can’t recall the name of your kid’s teacher. You made your six-month dentist appointment three months late. Sound familiar? Fear not: most forgetfulness isn’t anything serious, says Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand Brain Center in Luterville, MD and co-author of The Memory Cure.

Lack of sleep, certain medications, and even stress can impact your memory. “Fortunately, your brain is malleable, meaning it changes and improves,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Memory can be boosted with simple powerful interventions.”

Here are surprising things that impact your memory in both good and not-so-good ways.

quicklist: 1 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: A dysfunctional thyroid url: text: When your thyroid’s out of whack, you may feel too hot, too cold, anxious, depressed—and your memory may also be lagging.

“Although the thyroid doesn’t have a specific role in the brain, memory loss is the one thing a person notices when it stops functioning normally,” says Dr. Fotuhi. A butterfly-shaped gland that sits along the front of your windpipe, the thyroid reigns over almost all your body’s metabolic processes. “People with high or low thyroid levels—which are very common in women—may have difficulty with memory and concentration,” he says.

Ask your doctor for a simple thyroid test to determine if it’s the culprit behind your memory problems.

19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

quicklist: 2 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Hot flashes url: text: Every time hot flashes make you you feel like sticking your head in the freezer, you may also feel a fog rolling into your brain.

“The more hot flashes a woman experiences during menopause, the worse her ability to remember names and stories,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Fortunately, hot flashes don’t damage the brain in any way. Memory improves once the hot flashes subside.”

Other menopause-related symptoms contribute to memory loss, including insomnia and sleep apnea, Dr. Fotuhi says.

quicklist: 3 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Lack of sleep url: text: Last night’s late party makes it less likely you’ll remember your new coworker’s name the next day.

“While some part of the brain takes a siesta when we sleep, deeper areas involved with memory and emotional response become relatively more active,” says Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine. “Individuals with sleep deprivation and sleep disorders not only suffer from impaired memory but also daytime fatigue, impaired attention, and reduced reaction time.”

The standard recommendation of eight hours of sleep a night doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. If you wake up fatigued and fall asleep unintentionally during the day, then you may need more sleep, says Dr. Towfigh.

quicklist: 4 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Anxiety and depression url: text: Worrying about an upcoming presentation in front of the CEO may also hinder your memory, several studies show. “We don’t understand the exact link, but strong evidence indicates depression, anxiety, and bipolar disease disrupts the neural circuitry involved in developing and retrieving memories,” says Dr. Towfigh. “The severity of the memory loss often mirrors the severity of the mood disorder—severe depression brings about equally severe memory loss.”

Prolonged periods of everyday stress increase cortisol levels in the brain, which causes our brain cells to lose synapses (the bridges that connect our brain cells to one another), and make it more difficult to create and retrieve memories. The good news is when memory loss exists with a mood disorder (including anxiety and depression), the memory loss is usually at least partially reversible. “As the individual’s mood improves, often so does the memory loss,” says Dr. Towfigh.

15 Myths and Facts About Depression

quicklist: 5 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Prescription drugs url: text: Check your medicine cabinet: many common prescription drugs can make you feel forgetful. Anxiety disorder meds like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan (which are benzodiazepines) put a damper on the part of the brain that moves events from the short-term to the long-term memory. Tricyclic antidepressants have a similar effect. Heart medicines including statins and beta blockers have also been linked to memory issues, as have narcotic painkillers, incontinence drugs, sleep aids, and even antihistamines like Benadryl.

Bottom line: Don’t stop taking your (potentially life-saving) medications, but talk to your doc if you believe any drug you’re on may be messing with your memory.

quicklist: 6 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Smoking url: text: If you’re still smoking, that may help explain memory lapses. “Smoking damages the brain by impairing its blood supply,” says Dr. Towfigh.

Research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry gathered from data obtained from more than 7,000 men and women found a more rapid decline in brain function (which included memory along with vocabulary and other brain functions) with age than from those who never smoked. “Furthermore, cigarette smoking promotes the accumulation of abnormal proteins which impair the brain’s ability to process and relay information,” says Dr. Towfigh.

15 Ways Smoking Ruins Your Looks

quicklist: 7 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: A high-fat diet url: text: Greasy burgers and French fries pack on pounds and are hard on your heart—and they may also cause memory issues. One study revealed that adolescent mice had poorer learning and memory skills after being fed a high-fat diet for eight weeks, while another study on middle-aged rats found that the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory) may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of high-fat diets.

More research is needed to determine for sure whether or not high-fat diets impact human memory, but here’s what we do know: Calorically dense diets promote type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, which can all do damage to our brains, says Dr. Towfigh. “This holds true earlier in life, too. Studies link childhood obesity with a reduced attention span and impaired concentration and focus.”

quicklist: 8 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Stress url: text: A sudden emergency can make it tough to recall something as simple as your home address. A rat study published in Neuron shows that stress hormones influence an area of the brain area that controls working memory. Researchers found that repeated stress reduced receptors in the part of the brain that’s connected to thought processes Although this study involved animals, the human brain works similarly, explains Dr. Towfigh. “Repeated or chronic stress can be harmful. Regular exposure to elevated glucocorticoids (a hormone released by the adrenal gland) also causes our brain cells to reduce receptors, making brain cells less capable of responding to neurochemical (brain chemicals) cues.”

Finding ways to relieve stress may help: Practicing meditation does double duty by easing stress and helping improve memory, according to a study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. College students who completed eight 45-minute meditation sessions over two weeks increased their average GRE exam scores from 460 to 520 and showed improvement on tests of working memory.

quicklist: 9 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Germs url: text: A nasty cold sore does more than make you feel self-conscious—it may be messing with your memory, according to a 2013 study in Neurology. Researchers found that people who exposed to many germs, such as herpes simplex type 1 (the cold sore virus), over their lifetimes were more likely to have memory problems than those exposed to fewer germs. Among more than 1,600 study participants, those with a higher “infectious burden” had a 25 percent increase in the risk of a low score on a cognitive test.

Although there is no vaccine for the cold sore virus, childhood vaccinations against other viruses could help prevent problems later in life, the researchers suggest. In addition, regular exercise may help too—doctors think repeated infections may damage blood vessels, since a high infectious burden is also linked to a greater risk of stroke and heart attack.

quicklist: 10 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Green tea url: text: Now for some good news: chemicals found in green tea may help improve your memory, according to a University of Basel study. “Several compounds, EGCG and L-theanine, in green tea increase neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) in the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for short-term memory and learning new things,” says Dr. Fotuhi. How much green tea has not yet been determined, says Dr. Fotuhi, who recommends combining green tea with other healthy habits such as exercise for greatest memory improvement benefits.

quicklist: 11 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Exercise url: text: Regular sweat sessions also help keep memories sharp. “Physical exercise improves mood and sleep and by doing so, it invariably improves cognition and memory,” says Dr. Towfigh. An animal study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, for example, showed daily exercise increased brain cell growth after 12 weeks of conditioned running. Dr. Fotuhi recommends 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four days a week for the best memory boost.

quicklist: 12 category: Surprising Things That Mess With Your Memory title: Vitamin B12 deficiency url: text: Vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of being deficient in vitamin B12, which keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. That’s because B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods: shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. In addition to fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, and weight loss, a B12 deficiency can also lead to memory problems. If you feel your meatless diet may be affecting your memory, your doctor can give you a blood test that determines whether you should be taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

Note: it’s not just veggies who are at risk for a B12 deficiency. Pregnant women, older adults, and anyone with pernicious anemia or gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease may need supplementation.

This article originally appeared on

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *