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Depression: The Basics


Written by Corry Hawkins, LCSW, Clinical Director for KPS

Depression is a fairly common mood disorder, but it can be serious and life threatening. Called Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V), depression can present differently in people depending on their age, gender, culture, genetics, and history. In general, depression is a mental health disorder that impacts the way a person thinks, feels, and handles their day to day life. It can impact school and work performance, disrupt relationships, and negatively affect physical health. While people may use the word “depression” for small changes in mood, true clinical depression can be life-altering and requires support from a mental health and/or medical professional.

Risk Factors

Depression is a common mental health disorder in the United States. It’s generally accepted among mental health and medical professionals that depression is caused by a combination of psychological, environmental, biological, and genetic factors. Depression can begin in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Children and teens can present as irritable and angry rather than depressed or sad. Some medical conditions increase the likelihood of developing depression, and it is important to see your medical doctor regularly. It is also common for people who have experienced long term stress or traumatic events to develop depressive symptoms.

Overall, a family history of depression, major life events, and major illnesses or changes in medication are the leading risk factors of developing depression.


Depression can be experienced differently depending on the person, but in general, symptoms of depression include the following:

  • Depressed mood

  • Loss of interest or pleasure

  • Changes in appetite and/or weight

  • Changes in sleep

  • Changes in physical activity

  • Fatigue or loss of energy

  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt

  • Problems with concentrating or indecisiveness

  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide


Depression is usually treatable, so please don’t wait to seek help. Treatment options vary, but a proper diagnosis is crucial to finding the right type of support. Start with making an appointment with your physician to rule out any physiological factors that could be contributing to or causing your symptoms. Seek out a mental health professional to be evaluated and get recommendations on further treatment. Many people find other types of support helpful for managing or treating symptoms of depression, such as medication, exercise, and diet changes. Make sure to consult those involved in your care before starting a new type of treatment.

For more information about depression see this Depression Fact Sheet from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

What Next?

It can be overwhelming if you or someone you know is suffering from depression. Often the symptoms of depression make it difficult to seek help in the first place. Follow these basic steps to get help:

  1. Remember depression is real and you are not alone.

  2. Make an appointment with your physician and be honest about your reason for making the appointment.

  3. Make an appointment with a therapist or psychologist to be evaluated for depression.


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