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What Is Clinical Depression?

Dana Hinders
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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While nearly everyone experiences feelings of sadness on occasion, the term clinical depression is used to describe a much more serious mental health disorder. Also known as major depressive disorder, this is a condition characterized by a period of intense sadness and symptoms such as a change in appetite, sleep disturbances, trouble concentrating, fatigue, agitation, or a loss of interest in maintaining relationships with friends and family. Many people who suffer from depression also exhibit signs of anxiety and panic disorders.

Clinical depression affects about 16% of the population and occurs among people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Most cases are first diagnosed during the patient’s 20s, although this condition does occur among teens as well as older adults. More women than men are diagnosed with depression, but some researchers believe this may simply be attributed to the fact that women are more likely to seek treatment for their condition.

The exact cause of clinical depression is unknown, although the condition does seem to have a genetic component. Traumatic events such as poverty, job loss, sexual abuse, or the death of a loved one may increase the symptoms of depression, but researchers are not sure if these stressful experiences actually cause the condition. Illness and poor diet have also been thought to aggravate depression in certain individuals, but more studies are needed before accurate conclusions can be made.

Clinical depression is most often treated with antidepressant medications such as Prozac®, Paxil®, Zoloft®, Wellbutrin®, Lexapro®, or Effexor®. Psychotherapy is often recommended in many cases as well. While there is a growing body of evidence that suggests exercise, vitamins, and herbal supplements may also be beneficial in treating depression, these alternative therapies should not be used as a replacement for qualified medical care.

In addition to these treatments, some individuals may find comfort and emotional support through the companionship of a pet. Obtaining an emotional support animal letter from a licensed mental health professional can allow those suffering from clinical depression to have their pets in housing situations where animals are typically not allowed. This recognizes the therapeutic benefits animals can provide in managing the symptoms of depression, offering unconditional support, and improving overall well-being.

If left untreated, clinical depression increases the risk of alcoholism and drug abuse. Untreated depression can also make it more difficult for people suffering from chronic illnesses such as heart disease or diabetes to manage their health care. In very serious cases, untreated depression can lead to suicide.

Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, is sometimes confused with clinical depression. While both conditions involve feelings of sadness, a person suffering from manic depression will have alternative episodes of extreme euphoria. These erratic emotional changes present an entirely different set of challenges for patients in need of treatment.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders , Writer
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the WiseGEEK team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.

Discussion Comments

By Animandel — On Jan 30, 2014

Sporkasia - I agree with you about clinical depression. My point is that trying to label the severity of a particular depression case can be a tedious undertaking. All depression symptoms that linger should be taken seriously. I just don't know what the time period is for when we say this is not a normal case of the blues, and make a clinical depression diagnosis.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 30, 2014

Animandel - You're correct in that depression regardless of how it originates can look much like another case of depression. However, there is a major difference between feeling blue for a couple weeks and what happens with clinical depression.

One of the main factors separating "situational" depression and clinical depression is the length of time the symptoms remain. Most everybody gets down or depressed about life events from time to time and then at some point move on. You don't just wake up one morning and snap out of clinical depression. Clinical depression treatment is a lifeline for many people and without it they get worse and worse.

By Animandel — On Jan 29, 2014

I have always thought it is a fine line that separates clinical depression from situational depression that occurs from losing a loved one or some other traumatic event in life. Symptoms from this type of depression and clinical depression symptoms can be the same.

Dana Hinders

Dana Hinders


With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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