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Depression is one of the most common problems in mental health. Research shows that one of every five people will experience a clinically significant depression during their lifetime (serious enough that it interferes with life and should receive professional treatment).

Depression can occur in response to significant losses, or seemingly out of nowhere. It can vary in severity: Some depressed people feel blue but struggle through their days, others are unable to get out of bed. Depression can occur by itself, or as part of a pattern of extreme highs and lows, as in Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depression). Some people experience a chronic, relatively mild form of depression called Dysthymic Disorder, which is not incapacitating but makes for a rather sad and unsatisfying life.

Depressive symptoms also can occur in response to some physical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, so it is a good idea to have a physical exam if you are feeling depressed. Also, people who abuse alcohol or other drugs can develop symptoms of depression, which are unlikely to abate as long as the substance abuse continues.

Common symptoms of depression are described below, along with specific information about depression in children and adolescents. We also discuss the role of psychologists in diagnosing and treating depression.

Symptoms of Depression

Here are some common symptoms of depression:

  • Unhappy, sad, blue, or irritable much of the time
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in things you used to like
  • Life feels like a strain, getting through the day is a struggle
  • Loss of appetite (or increased eating)
  • Insomnia (or sleeping much more than usual)
  • Lack of energy, fatigue
  • Forgetfulness, or difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
  • Doing things much slower than usual (or being too agitated to sit still)
  • Feeling excessively guilty or remorseful, ruminating, or excessively focusing on your mistakes, weaknesses, and failures
  • Feeling worthless, low self-esteem, strong feelings of inadequacy
  • Feeling pessimistic or hopeless about the future
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Decreased productivity or effectiveness in work, school, chores, etc.
  • Repeatedly thinking about death, wishing you were dead, or thinking about ways to die*

*If you are seriously thinking about killing yourself or planning how to end your own life, you should seek help immediately through a professional caregiver or the Emergency Department of your local hospital. In addition, avoid the use of alcohol or other unprescribed drugs because these can increase the risk of impulsive self-harm.

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Depression in Children and Adolescents

In children, depression may manifest in surprising ways.

For example, you might see behavior problems, including anger, temper tantrums, and aggressive behavior. Young children, in particular, have trouble expressing sadness verbally, so it comes out in their behavior.

Although we usually see inertia and psychomotor slowness in depressed adults, in children you might paradoxically see overactivity.

You also can see some of the "classic" symptoms of depression, like sadness, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and comments, and low self-esteem (statements like, "I'm so dumb" or "Nobody likes me").

In teenagers, especially, but also in children, you might see social withdrawal, less involvement in activities they previously enjoyed, apathy (e.g., frequently saying, "I don't care"), hypersomnia (sleeping way too much), trouble with peer relationships, and a decline in school performance.

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The Role of the Psychologist


Psychologists help people overcome depression by, first, identifying the disorder and any contributing factors in the person's life. Usually, the depression can be identified by the psychologist using a clinical interview. In some cases, psychological testing can be helpful in defining the disorder and its severity.

Because depression in children and adolescents can be masked by other types of problems, evaluation by a psychologist with expertise in child and adolescent development and mental health is all the more essential.


Psychologists use psychotherapy to treat depression, which has been shown to be as effective as medications in treating this disorder. Psychotherapy has the benefit of teaching new skills for managing depression, which can help reduce future problems with the disorder, but medications sometimes work faster. Because the combination of psychotherapy and medications can be better than either alone, psychologists will often refer their clients for medication.

One common approach to treating depression involves learning how automatic thoughts can contribute to the person's depressed mood. These automatic thoughts occur at a subconscious level, so they have their impact without the person ever realizing it. For example, a person might receive a compliment, but he tells himself that he really didn't do so well and should have done better. Instead of feeling good about the compliment, he gets aggravated with himself for being a failure.

There are a number of ways that depressed people distort their experiences. The psychologist identifies those distortions and questions them. As the person learns to catch himself in these automatic distortions and develops the ability to challenge them, the depression generally improves.

Sometimes, there are other issues that contribute to the depression:

Real losses cause considerable grief -- things like the death of a loved one, breakup of a relationship, loss of health, or job loss. The psychologist helps the person by supporting him during his adjustment to the loss and works to prevent a prolonged, destructive response to the loss.

People who have suffered abuse often struggle with depression (along with anxiety, difficulty trusting, relationship problems, substance abuse, etc.). Often, it is enough to work on the cognitive distortions/automatic thinking that develops from the abuse. Sometimes, however, there is a need for in-depth exploration of the abuse and its effects before those cognitive distortions can be realistically challenged.

In general, the skilled psychologist will tailor the treatment to the specific needs of the client.

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Disclaimer:  You know, we see a disclaimer like this in every ad that lawyers put out, and it probably is a good idea for us to use one, too:  "No representation is made that the quality of the psychological services to be performed is greater than the quality of psychological services performed by other psychologists.  The outcome of assessments or psychotherapy, or individual client satisfaction, cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on many factors.  Material on this site regarding symptoms, disorders, and treatment is informational only.  Diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders requires the expertise of a trained professional."

The information on this site regarding psychological disorders and treatment comes from many sources that cannot be credited, simply because they have been integrated over the years into our general knowledge base. However, one important source is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (1994) published by the American Psychiatric Association.