Depression: Frequently Asked Questions

Print out these questions and answers to discuss with your health care provider.

Is depression a mental illness?

Yes. Depression is a serious but treatable mental illness. It is a medical problem, not a personal weakness. It also is very common. All people, at one point or another, will feel sadness as a reaction to loss, grief, or injured self-esteem. However, clinical depressionócalled "major depressive disorder" by medical providersóis a serious illness that needs professional diagnosis and treatment. About 6.7% of adults in the United States experience major depressive disorder each year.

Do children get depression?

Yes. Children are subject to the same factors that cause depression in adults. These include: changes in physical health, life events, heredity, environment, and chemical disturbances in the brain. It is estimated that 2% of U.S. children in the age group of 6 to 12 have depression. The rate of overall major depression rises at puberty to about 4% in the U.S.

Depression in children is different from the "normal" blues and everyday emotions that are typical in children of various ages. Children who are depressed experience changes in their behavior that are persistent and disruptive to their normal lifestyles, usually interfering with relationships with friends, schoolwork, special interests, and family life. It may also occur at the same time as (or be hidden by) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or conduct disorder (CD).

Can lack of sleep cause depression?

No. Lack of sleep alone cannot cause depression, but it does play a role. Lack of sleep resulting from another medical illness or the presence of personal problems can intensify depression. Chronic inability to sleep also is an important clue that someone may be depressed.

Common triggers of depression include:

Are there any alternatives to the traditional treatments for depression that I can try?

Alternative therapy describes any treatment or technique that has not been scientifically documented or identified as safe or effective for a specific condition. Alternative therapy involves a variety of disciplines that include everything from diet and exercise to mental conditioning and lifestyle changes. Some of these have been found to be effective for treating depression. Examples of alternative therapies include acupuncture, guided imagery, chiropractic, yoga, hypnosis, biofeedback, aromatherapy, relaxation, herbal remedies, massage, and many others. If you are interested in trying any of these options, talk with your doctor.

How can you determine if an illness is causing depression or depression is causing an illness?

Illnesses that can lead to depression are usually major, chronic, and/or terminal. When an illness is causing depression, there often is long-term pain present or a sudden change in lifestyle.

Depression causes illness in a different way. Like psychological stress, it can weaken the immune system (cells involved in fighting disease and keeping you healthy), allowing a person to get more colds or the flu. There often is a notable presence of "aches and pains" with no particular cause. While having depression may cause an illness to last longer and intensify its symptoms, the true relationship of depression-induced illness, in terms of major disease, has not been thoroughly defined.

It is important to seek the advice of your doctor if you think you or someone you know may have depression.

I've heard lots of warnings about drug interactions with certain depression medicines. What are they?

MAOIs, or monoamine oxidase inhibitors, are effective antidepressant medicines that have been used for years. Typically prescribed for people with severe depression, MAOIs improve mood by increasing the number of chemicals in the brain that pass messages between brain cells. MAOIs have been proven to work just as well as other antidepressant drugs, but they have more possible food and drug interactions.

Medicines to avoid when taking MAOIs include all SSRIs (a group of antidepressants that includes Prozac and Paxil) and certain pain medicines including Demerol. There also are some cough medicines and blood pressure medicines that must not be taken with MAOIs. Foods to avoid when taking MAOIs include aged cheeses and meats, avocado, pickled or smoked foods like sauerkraut or meat, and foods that include yeast extracts. Beer and wine also contain yeast extracts. It is important to tell your doctor about any medicines you are currently taking. Be sure to discuss the limitations, interactions, and possible side effects of MAOIs.

Why are women more likely to get depression?

Women develop depression twice as often as men. One reason may be the various changes in hormone levels that women experience. For example, depression is common during pregnancy and menopause, as well as after giving birth, suffering a miscarriage, or having a hysterectomy. These are all times when women experience huge fluctuations in hormones. Premenstrual worsening of depression can occur in a subgroup of women.

Do most people with depression commit suicide?

No. Most people who have depression do not attempt suicide. However, about 90% of people who have committed suicide had mental illness and substance abuse problems. This figure demonstrates the importance of seeking professional treatment for yourself or someone you love if you suspect depression.

Will someone who has had depression get it again?

Having experienced an episode of depression puts a person at greater risk for future episodes. However, not everyone who has recovered from depression will experience it again. Sometimes depression is triggered by a major life event or illness, or a combination of factors particular to a certain place and time. Getting the proper treatment for the correct amount of time is crucial to recovery and in helping prevent or identify any future depression.

How long does depression last?

If left untreated, various types of depressive disorders can last for years. A major depressive episode is characterized by a set of symptoms that last for more than two weeks and may last for months. Seasonal depression, or SAD, usually extends throughout the winter months and continues to improve during spring and summer. Bipolar disorder is characterized as "ups" (periods of mania) and "downs" (periods of extreme depression). Although these phases may change rapidly or slowly, bipolar depression may last until an effective treatment is found.



This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit or This document was last reviewed on: