What is major depressive disorder?

Sadness is a natural part of the human experience. People may feel sad or depressed when a loved one passes away or when they’re going through a life challenge, such as a divorce or serious illness. However, these feelings are normally short-lived. When someone experiences persistent and intense feelings of sadness for extended periods of time, then they may have major depressive disorder (MDD).

MDD, also referred to as clinical depression, is a significant medical condition that can affect many areas of your life. It impacts mood and behavior as well as various physical functions, such as appetite and sleep. People with MDD often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have trouble performing everyday activities. Occasionally, they may also feel as if life isn’t worth living.

MDD is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In 2015, nearly 7 percent of Americans over age 18 had an episode of MDD.

Some people with MDD never seek treatment. However, most people with the disorder can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapy, and other methods can effectively treat people with MDD and help them manage their symptoms.

What are the symptoms of major depressive disorder?

Your doctor or a mental health professional can make a MDD diagnosis based on your symptoms, feelings, and behavior patterns. They will ask you certain questions or give you a questionnaire so they can better determine whether you have MDD.

To be diagnosed with MDD, you need to meet the symptom criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual helps medical professionals diagnose mental health conditions. According to its criteria, you must have 5 or more of the following symptoms, and experience them at least once a day for a period of more than 2 weeks:

  • You feel sad or irritable most of the day, nearly every day.
  • You are less interested in most activities you once enjoyed.
  • You suddenly lose or gain weight or have a change in appetite.
  • You have trouble falling asleep or want to sleep more than usual.
  • You experience feelings of restlessness.
  • You feel unusually tired and have a lack of energy.
  • You feel worthless or guilty, often about things that wouldn’t normally make you feel that way.
  • You have difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions.
  • You think about harming yourself or committing suicide.