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What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder is a psychological illness that can create symptoms of enduring sadness and a general loss of interest in life. At times, those symptoms can feel overwhelming, leading to suicidal thoughts, ideas about harming oneself, or substance use. Typically, symptoms include of Major Depressive Disorder include:

  • loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • persistent low mood
  • low self-esteem
  • high self-criticism
  • extreme pessimism
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • slow thinking
  • distorted thinking
  • high self-consciousness
  • irritability
  • challenges in personal relationships
  • insomnia and/or hypersomnia
  • weight loss or gain
  • difficulty coping with stress
  • guilt (feeling bad about something you did)
  • shame (feeling bad about who you are)
  • suicidal thoughts
  • poor concentration
  • poor memory
  • indecision
  • isolation from others
  • apathy
  • hopelessness

A combination of these symptoms can cause someone to begin to isolate from others as well as experience suicidal thoughts. However, as anyone can imagine, this can be dangerous. For those who do not get treatment for Major Depressive Disorder, the illness can ultimately lead to taking one’s own life.

It’s important to remember that Major Depressive Disorder is not an experience that someone can simply “snap out of”. Major Depressive Disorder is a psychological illness that requires appropriate treatment. Research indicates that proper treatment for the illness includes a combination of therapy and medication. Therapy helps to address the deeper issues contributing to the illness, while medication helps ease symptoms so that a person can function and participate more fully in their life. Over time, as a person learns new coping tools, becomes aware of certain cognitive distortions, and continues to follow an active self-care plan, Major Depressive Disorder can lift for most people.

Types of Depression

Symptoms of depression can vary in different people. The severity, frequency, and intensity of those symptoms can point to the type of depression a person may be experiencing. Major Depressive Disorder is just one type of Depression, as indicated below:

  • Major Depression – Experiencing chronic and persistent sadness is the characterizing symptom of this illness. It can interfere with one’s ability to function in life. Other terms for Major Depressive Disorder include Clinical Depression, Major Depression, Unipolar Depression, and Recurrent Depression.
  • Post-Partum Depression – Many women experience depressive symptoms after giving birth. This type of depression lasts for a period of time, unlike Major Depressive Disorder which is persistent regardless of the circumstances and events in one’s life.
  • Seasonal DepressionWhen the seasons change and the days get shorter, some people experience depressive symptoms, in part due to the lower levels of sunlight.
  • Dysthymia – This type of depression is a much less severe form of depression, which is why it’s also sometimes called Minor Depressive Disorder. However, because it can also be persistent and ongoing, it can be debilitating for some people. In fact, this illness can last months and even years.

Help for Major Depressive Disorder

If you’re looking to heal depressive symptoms, there are two primary methods to do so – psychotherapy and medication. As mentioned above, research has shown that the best treatment for Major Depressive Disorder is a combination of both.


Psychotherapy (especially insight-driven types of therapies such as psychoanalysis) can be useful in uncovering any unresolved issues that may be contributing to the illness. With this, psychotherapy provide someone with life-long changes. At the same time, psychotherapy can also provide a person with relief immediately. When a person feels supported, begins to use the coping tools provided, can identify unhealthy thought patterns that are contributing to the illness, they may be able to get better in a relatively short amount of time. For instance, a therapist can help a person identify thought patterns that might be triggering sadness or guilt or shame. A therapist can also facilitate insightful awareness of those thought patterns so that new and healthier thoughts can be used. Commonly, as psychologist Aaron Beck pointed out, someone with Major Depressive Disorder forms and maintains false beliefs about themselves, others, and the world. Yet, psychotherapy can help transform those false beliefs into an objective point of view about oneself.


Medication can help adjust chemicals imbalances in the brain that can affect a person’s mood, feelings, and thoughts. For instance, anti-depressants affect neurotransmitters in the brain, which help to lift one’s mood and keep one in good spirits, enough to function more readily in their life. This can provide an immediate sense of relief, which can in turn help someone remain in treatment and working on healing the illness.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of depression, getting professional assistance is an important next step. Once you have a diagnosis, the proper treatment can follow.