What Is Major or Clinical Depression?

A constant sense of hopelessness and despair is a sign you may have major depression, also known as clinical depression.With major depression, it may be difficult to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy friends and activities. Some people have clinical depression only once in their life, while others have it several times in a lifetime.Major depression can sometimes occur from one generation to the next in families, but often it may affect people with no family history of the illness.

Most people feel sad or low at some point in their lives. But clinical depression is marked by a depressed mood most of the day, sometimes particularly in the morning, and a loss of interest in normal activities and relationships — symptoms that are present every day for at least 2 weeks. In addition, according to the DSM-5 — a manual used to diagnose mental healthconditions — you may have other symptoms with major depression. Those symptoms might include:

  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
  • Restlessness or feeling slowed down
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)
 

Who Is at Risk for Major Depression?

Major depression affects about 6.7% of the U.S. population over age 18, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Overall, between 20% and 25% of adults may suffer an episode of major depression at some point during their lifetime.

Major depression also affects older adults, teens, and children, but frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated in these populations.

Are Women at Higher Risk for Major Depression?

Almost twice as many women as men have major or clinical depression; hormonal changes during puberty, menstruationpregnancy, miscarriage, and menopause, may increase the risk.

Other factors that boost the risk of clinical depression in women who are biologically vulnerable to it include increased stress at home or at work, balancing family life with career, and caring for an aging parent. Raising a child alone will also increase the risk.