Clinical Depression

All of us feel sad at some point in our lives. However, there is an enormous difference between being depressed for a short time because of an event in our lives and true clinical depression.

To people with clinical depression, the world is a gloomy, lonely place. They will take no pleasure in the things that did make them happy and lose interest in hobbies, work, family and friends. People with clinical depression often stay awake most of the night or will excessively sleep. They may overeat or completely lose appetite so that weight loss occurs.  They blame themselves for symptoms and self-esteem plummets.

Severe depression can cause one to brood about death which can then spiral into thoughts or attempts of suicide. For people suffering from severe clinical depression, there seems like there is no hope in the future.

How Many People Are Affected By Clinical Depression?

  • In 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that, globally, major depression was the leading cause of disability. According to their most recent data, WHO finds that approximately 121 million people worldwide are affected by depression.
  • In the United States alone, 6.7% of adults are diagnosed with clinical depression annually.
  • Young people seem to be at greater risk than older adults. In a 12 month period, 18 to 29 year-olds are 200% more likely to develop clinical depression than are those over 60 and 30 to 44 year-olds have a 70%greater chance than their parents.

What Causes Clinical Depression?

Clinical Depression

Genetics and environmental factors can cause clinical depression.

There is ample evidence that depression is genetically inherited. When sets of twins who were adopted and raised in different environments were studied, there was a high likelihood that both twins would develop depression. Further, biological children of depressed parents have a strong risk of developing the same disorder, even if they are raised in adoptive families with no history of depression.

However, there is also strong evidence of environmental factors contributing to clinical depression. In many cases, clinical depression can begin as a normal reaction to an event, like a death of a loved one or breakup.  In the person does not have emotional support for dealing with the event, then normal depression may degenerate into a clinical depression.

Many researchers believe that stress can cause changes in the brain, specifically neurotransmitters; extreme or prolonged stress can reduce the number of neurons and synaptic contacts. A long period of stress isn’t necessary; a single experience can have the same effect if it’s very distressing. The loss of a spouse is considered to be the event most likely to cause clinical depression.  Drug and alcohol use can also cause neurotransmitters in the brain to change and cause depression.

All of these factors can combine to cause clinical depression. For example, your mother may have been depressed for most of her life, which means that you could have inherited a tendency to develop clinical depression. But, in your case, you have a supportive family and close friends that help you deal with trials and tribulations thus you do not develop clinical depression.

Symptoms of Clinical Depression

People with clinical depression are sad nearly all the time, have no interest in things that they previously enjoyed, is getting too little or too much sleep, have lost appetite or are overeating, are indecisive, and may be thinking or speaking about death or suicide.

The last symptom, a preoccupation with death, dying or suicide, should be considered a call to action for family and friends. If clinical depression is untreated, it can result in death through suicide which could have been avoided with intervention.

What Treatments Are Available For Depression?

In the case of clinical depression, treatment usually includes both medication and talk therapy. Various types of therapy have proven effective for treating depression including cognitive behavior therapy and psychotherapy.  For children and adolescents, it is often recommended that the family also undergo therapy or counseling as well to learn ways of helping the patient through depression

With severe clinical depression, it may be important to immediately begin medication treatment in order to alleviate the worst of the symptoms and prevent the possibility of suicide. Medications should only be given to children and adolescents along with psychological therapy.

There has been some controversy about the use of antidepressant drugs for treating clinical depression.  Some studies show that, when taken by people under the age of 24, antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide in clinically depressed patients. Antidepressants have also not be found to be effective in children though some psychiatrists will still prescribe them.  Further, antidepressants can cause adverse side effects and the risks may be greater than the benefits.

Prognosis for Clinical Depression

Many episodes of clinical depression will eventually resolve themselves, even without treatment. However, there is a high likelihood of having a repeat episode of clinical depression at a later point in life.  Resolving issues which have caused depression – such as loss of a loved one – can prevent recurrence of clinical depression.

Where Can I Find Additional Information on Depression?

  • An organization called Families for Depression Awareness offers a full spectrum of resources, including tips on recognizing the symptoms of depression in both adults and teenagers,help finding a mental health professional in your local area, and even a


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Kaplan, H.I., & Sadoc, B.J. (1996). Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

Morey, B., & Mueser, K.T. (2007). The Family Intervention Guide to Mental Illness: Recognizing the Symptoms & Getting Treatment. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

National Institute on Mental Health. (n.d.). Major Depressive Disorder among Adults. Retrieved from

World Health Organization. (n.d.). What is depression? Retrieved from


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