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We have all felt sad at one time or another, or have felt stressed from work or serious problems. This is not depression because these feelings usually pass in a few days or weeks. However, once these feelings linger, intensify, and begin to interfere with normal, everyday life, it may be depression. It can affect anyone.

Once depression is diagnosed, most people with depression are successfully treated. Many times, unfortunately, depression is not diagnosed because it can mimic physical illnesses such as sleep or appetite disorders. Recognizing it is the first step in treating it.

Some types of depression seem to run in families, suggesting a biological vulnerability. This seems to be the case with bipolar depression and, to a lesser degree, severe major depression. Studies of families, in which members of each generation develop bipolar disorder, found that those with bipolar disorder have a somewhat different genetic makeup than those who are not diagnosed. It may be genetics, or family socialization, but compared with those who have no depressed relatives, those with close family members who are or have been depressed are about twice as likely as the average individuals to become seriously depressed themselves (Franklin, 1999).

Chemical imbalances in the brain occur during depression. A study by Dr. Gregory Miller of Carnegie Mellon University suggested that depression could also be associated with abnormal levels of norepinephrine and estradiol, hormones that are known to help regulate the immune system (Bower, 1992).

Brain images can show the structures of depression. The left prefrontal cortex malfunctions only during bouts of depression, and the amygdala, a small inner brain structure thought to regulate emotional reactions, operates abnormally during and between depressive episodes. This serves as a biological marker of susceptibility to severe depression.

A variety of psychological factors appear to play a role in vulnerability to severe forms of depression. People who have low self-esteem, who consistently view themselves and the world with pessimism, or who are readily overwhelmed by stress are more prone to depression. Psychologists often describe social learning factors as being significant in the development of depression, as well as other psychological problems. A serious loss, chronic illness, relationship problems, work stress, family crisis, financial setback, or any unwelcome life change can trigger a depressive episode. (Burns, 1999)


Bowden, Bruce. Brain images show structure of depression Science News, Sept. 12, 1992, v.142, n.11, pg. 165

The power of negative thinking. The Economist, Dec. 18, 1999 v.353 i.8150 pg.127

Nesse, Randolph M. Is Depression an Adaptation? , Archives of General Psychiatry, Jan 2000, v.57 i.1 copyright 2000, American Medical Association.

Franklin, Donald J. A Guide to Depression, Psychology Information Online, copyright 1999.

Burns, David. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, April 1999, New York, NY. The World Book Medical Encyclopedia, Depression , pgs.244-245, copyright 1991, World Book, Inc. Chicago, IL.

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The information presented here is not meant to be medical advice nor to act as a substitute for medical advice. Serious side-effects, including death, could result if one were to take any prescription medicine without the supervision of a physician.

Copyright 2003, Thomas Manaugh, PhD