Feeling sad is a healthy, normal part of life. For some people sadness comes out of nowhere, triggered by something as simple as a song that comes on the radio. It ebbs and flows. But for others, feelings of sadness won’t go away and the origin of the sadness is hard to discern. It is not something they can “snap out of” or control. It causes feelings and thoughts that won’t go away. Many lose interest in normal daily activities, lack energy, and have trouble concentrating. These are all signs of depression, a mood disorder also referred to as clinical depression or major depressive disorder. 

If you or someone you know suffers from depression you are not alone. Over sixteen million people in the United States experienced depression last year. While serious, depression is a treatable condition and help isn't too far. 

What is depression?

What causes clinical depression? Craig Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic, talks you through the symptoms, causes and treatments for depression.

Understanding Depression: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Hi, I'm Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a clinical psychologist at Mayo Clinic. And I'm here to talk with you about depression. Whether you're looking for answers for yourself, a friend, or loved one, understanding the basics of depression can help you take the next step.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness that won't go away. Unfortunately, there's a lot of stigma around depression. Depression isn't a weakness or a character flaw. It's not about being in a bad mood, and people who experience depression can't just snap out of it. Depression is a common, serious, and treatable condition. If you're experiencing depression, you're not alone. It honestly affects people of all ages and races and biological sexes, income levels and educational backgrounds. Approximately one in six people will experience a major depressive episode at some point in their lifetime, while up to 16 million adults each year suffer from clinical depression.

There are many types of symptoms that make up depression. Emotionally, you may feel sad or down or irritable or even apathetic. Physically, the body really slows down. You feel tired. Your sleep is often disrupted. It's really hard to get yourself motivated. Your thinking also changes. It can just be hard to concentrate. Your thoughts tend to be much more negative. You can be really hard on yourself, feel hopeless and helpless about things. And even in some cases, have thoughts of not wanting to live. Behaviorally, you just want to pull back and withdraw from others, activities, and day-to-day responsibilities. These symptoms all work together to keep you trapped in a cycle of depression. Symptoms of depression are different for everyone. Some symptoms may be a sign of another disorder or medical condition. That's why it's important to get an accurate diagnosis.

While there's no single cause of depression, most experts believe there's a combination of biological, social, and psychological factors that contribute to depression risk. Biologically, we think about genetics or a family history of depression, health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or thyroid disorders, and even hormonal changes that happen over the lifespan, such as pregnancy and menopause. Changes in brain chemistry, especially disruptions in neurotransmitters like serotonin, that play an important role in regulating many bodily functions, including mood, sleep, and appetite, are thought to play a particularly important role in depression. Socially stressful and traumatic life events, limited access to resources such as food, housing, and health care, and a lack of social support all contribute to depression risk. Psychologically, we think of how negative thoughts and problematic coping behaviors, such as avoidance and substance use, increase our vulnerability to depression.

The good news is that treatment helps. Effective treatments for depression exist and you do have options to see what works best for you. Lifestyle changes that improves sleep habits, exercise, and address underlying health conditions can be an important first step. Medications such as antidepressants can be helpful in alleviating depressive symptoms. Therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, teaches skills to better manage negative thoughts and improve coping behaviors to help break you out of cycles of depression. Whatever the cause, remember that depression is not your fault and it can be treated.

To help diagnose depression, your health care provider may use a physical exam, lab tests, or a mental health evaluation. These results will help identify various treatment options that best fit your situation. Help is available. You don't have to deal with depression by yourself. Take the next step and reach out. If you're hesitant to talk to a health care provider, talk to a friend or loved one about how to get help. Living with depression isn't easy and you're not alone in your struggles. Always remember that effective treatments and supports are available to help you start feeling better. Want to learn more about depression? Visit Mayo Do take care.

Teen and adult depression

Whether you’re 13, or 30, anyone can be affected by clinical depression. However, depending on your age, the symptoms aren’t the same for everyone.

Depression in males

Many factors in our society have trained men to hide their emotions and try to tough out any feelings of sadness. Unfortunately, that approach couldn’t be more unhealthy when it comes to male depression.

Postpartum depression

More than just a case of “the baby blues” (which is common and usually only lasts a couple of weeks), postpartum depression is a more severe, long-lasting form of depression.

Depression during pregnancy

Did you know that many women also experience depression during pregnancy?

Supporting someone with depression

Understanding how to help someone you care about cope with depression isn’t easy. Learn how you can provide productive support and encouragement.  

Seasonal affective disorder

Triggered by a change in season and less daylight, SAD is more than just feeling blue or lacking energy on cold winter days. It involves persistent, pervasive symptoms of depression. 

Bipolar disorder

Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that include highs (mania) and lows (depression) that can cause significant distress.

Coping with grief

Grief is a strong and overwhelming emotion caused by a loss. Learn how to cope with a difficult experience.

Managing grief during the holidays

Grieving the loss of a loved one can be more intense during the holiday season. Learn how grief can manifest and how to be kind to yourself during this difficult time.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Hello. I'm Dr. Marc Frye and I'm a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic. We all experience the emotional ups and downs of life. But when these mood swings become extreme, changed suddenly and negatively impact our function and our quality of life. It may be due to a mental health condition called bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings, including emotional highs and lows, with an associated marked change in energy. During an emotional high, you may feel euphoric or unusual, irritable. Importantly, the corresponding energy change can be highly productive or unusually impulsive. This is called mania. A less severe form is called hypomania. During an emotional low, also called depression. You may feel sad, hopeless, apathetic, or have thoughts that life is not worth living. Again, the corresponding energy change can be prominent. Lethargy, feeling exhausted, sometimes, an inability to get out of bed. These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly. Both episodes of mania and depression can cause great difficulty with work, school, social activities, and our relationships.

Bipolar disorder affects more than 5 million adult Americans every year. The average age of illness onset is about 25, but it can occur in adolescents or late life. In contrast to major depression, bipolar disorder affects men and women equally. Individuals with bipolar disorder appear to have brain changes. And it's more common in people who have a sibling or parent with the condition. Symptoms may include mania, hypomania and depression. Episodes of mood swings may occur rarely or multiple times a year. Most people experience emotional symptoms between episodes, while some may not.

There are two main types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar type one disorder means an individual has had at some point in the past a manic episode. In some cases, mania may trigger a break from reality, also known as psychosis. With bipolar type two disorder, an individual has had at least one hypomanic episode in the past, but never a manic episode. We rely on a thorough interview, asking questions about symptoms and history, as well as a physical exam, additional psychiatric assessments, and or mood tracking.

Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, symptoms can be very effectively managed. In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with medications and counseling. Bipolar disorder doesn't get better on its own. If you have any symptoms of depression or mania, please see your doctor or mental health professional. Suicidal thoughts are common among people with bipolar disorder. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts called 988, the suicide and crisis lifeline. If you have a loved one who is in immediate danger of suicide, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency room number immediately. Or if you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room. If you're experiencing bipolar disorder, you are not alone. 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression. You don't have to struggle with mental health conditions by yourself. Reach out, seek help, find resources. Looking for more information about bipolar disorder? Visit Mayo

Diagnosis & Treatment

Whatever symptoms of depression you may have, treatment can help.


Depression can manifest in many different ways. Learn more about potential symptoms.


Mayo Clinic Connect

Connect with others like you for support, practical information, and answers to your questions about mental health issues or caring for someone with mental health concerns. Ask questions and get answers.

If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, seek help. Contact your primary care provider or mental health professional. If this is an emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number. In the U.S., call, text, or chat the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).

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