“Depression—What It Is and Treatment Options”

Man with depression crying during psychotherapy session

Depression is a term that is often misunderstood.  From a mental and physical health perspective, it’s an illness that impacts both the mind and body.  A common misconception about depression is that it’s simply a state of sadness. But this malady is more complex than that.
Types of Depression

Major Depressive Disorder.  A person with major or “clinical” depression feels a profound and constant state of despair.  Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, sadness, irritability, loss of interest in activities the person may have once enjoyed, disrupted sleep and eating patterns, an inability to concentrate and fatigue. 

Dysthymia.  Another term for this is chronic depression. This is a low-level form of depression that can sometimes last for years. This form of depression can have many of the same symptoms, although fewer in number and less intense than major depression.   People with dysthymia can also experience bouts of major depression but this does not necessarily have to occur. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a seasonal form of mild depression that usually occurs in the late fall and lasts until spring.  Although there is debate as to it’s cause, some researchers speculate it’s related to hormonal changes while others think it may be the lack of sunlight which causes the brain to make less serotonin, a “feel good” chemical that helps to keep your mood elevated.  It’s symptoms can include less energy, fatigue, weight gain, trouble concentrating and greater need for sleep. 


Depression is a complex illness and there isn’t any one particular cause. Hereditary, situational and environmental factors can all play a role in determining any of the types of depression listed above.  Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a “reason” for the depression to occur.  It may occur because of a combination of the factors listed for someone who is vulnerable to the illness.


Normally, diagnosis is made by a primary care doctor or mental health professional.  There are no lab tests for this but usually a doctor may conduct a medical history, including any current medical issues that may be causing the depression.  Once other conditions are ruled out, your doctor may prescribe medication or refer you to a psychiatrist for further evaluation.  A diagnosis is usually made based on severity of symptoms, duration and other medical conditions, if any


Regardless of the type or cause—or even severity of—depression, it is still treatable, usually using a combination of psychotherapy and anti-depressant medication.  Sometimes a combination of medications are used to treat depression. 

If you think you may be suffering from depression, I can help. Call my office at (310) 879-5630 or email us.