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Is Depression a Disease?

Katelyn Hagerty

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 5/30/2022

Read up on depression and you’ll see a number of words used to classify it, like issue, condition, disorder or affliction. But one you might not see very often is disease. So, that brings us to the question “is depression a disease?”

That question is actually a little complicated — and the answer sometimes depends on who you ask. The American Psychiatric Association uses the words disorder and illness to describe depression. But there are a number of people who believe it should be classified as a disease instead. 

To learn why, along with more info on depression, keep reading.

What is Depression?

Depression is also sometimes referred to as major depressive disorder, clinical depression, severe depression or major depression. It negatively affects the way you think, feel and act in your daily life.  

Depression is among the conditions that are considered mental health disorders. A disorder is defined as a disturbance or interruption of normal functions.  However, a growing number of people are also starting to classify it as a disease, which is defined as a distinctive process in the body with a specific cause and characteristic symptoms.

More specifically, a systemic disease (which many argue that depression is) is one that affects the entire body, rather than just one organ or body part. The reason some want to classify depression as a systemic disease is because it affects more than just your mental health

For example, research has shown that depressive disorder can increase the risk of or complicate existing medical issues, including neuroendocrine regulation, inflammation, osteoporosis, heart disease and more. It is because it can affect so many different areas that some say it can be classified as a disease.

Honestly, when it comes to determining if depressive disorder is actually a disease, the answer is that it depends on who you ask. What’s more important than labeling it is identifying if you are dealing with it — and getting help if you need it.

What are the Symptoms of Depression

At the end of the day, whether clinical depression is a disease or a mental health condition doesn’t really matter. What matters is figuring out if you have depression, so that you can address it. After all, depression can drastically affect your quality of life.

If you think you are dealing with depression, be on the lookout for the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness

  • Consistent feelings of a depressed mood, sadness, anxiety or hopelessness 

  • Feeling irritable, guilty, helpless or worthless

  • Low energy and/or fatigue

  • Disinterest in activities you once enjoyed

  • Appetite or weight gain or loss

  • Avoiding social activities

  • Experiencing aches, pains or digestive issues for no reason

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Having depression doesn’t mean you’ll definitely experience every single one of these symptoms. You may experience only some, or your depression symptoms could fluctuate over time. To be diagnosed, at least some of these depression symptoms must persist for at least two weeks.

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Treatment for Depression

A mental health professional will be able to help you determine if you are dealing with clinical depression. If you are diagnosed with depression, the next step will be to discuss different treatment options. Here are some of the things that may be offered to you. 

Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy commonly suggested for the treatment of mental disorders. Research has found that it can be an effective treatment for people with depression. 

In CBT,  you will partner with a mental health professional to identify what you want to work on. You’ll set goals for changes you’d like to see, and identify patterns and behaviors that may be holding you back. From there, you’ll work on coming up with ways to change those behaviors and meet your goals.  

Medication 

Prescription antidepressants are also used to treat depression. They can be used on their own or in conjunction with therapy.  

Experts believe that depression is caused by low levels of certain neurotransmitters — which help relay information between neurons — in your brain. Mood-regulating serotonin and dopamine, which can help with motivation, are two neurotransmitters that may be linked to depression. Antidepressants boost levels of these neurotransmitters to help with depression. 

There are a few different types of antidepressants. They include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (such as sertraline and fluoxetine), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (such duloxetine and venlafaxine) and tricyclic antidepressants (such as nortriptyline).

Bupropion, which is sold under the brand name Wellbutrin®, is an atypical antidepressant. This means it doesn’t fall under the other categories.

You may have to take antidepressants for about four to eight weeks before you may notice your symptoms starting to get better. 

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Developing a Better Understanding of Depression

Whether you have mild depression, major depression or something in between, most people would consider it a mental disorder or mental illness. However, you might also want to know if your depression can be called a medical condition or disease. 

The answer is that some do consider depression to be a disease, because it can affect multiple areas of your health — including your physical health. 

If you find yourself in a depressive episode, you may experience psychological symptoms like feelings of sadness or worry. But you may also have physical symptoms, like weight gain or weight loss. 

People with depression can attest to the fact that it can affect their daily activities, which is why treatment for this mental illness is so important. 

Treatment may include taking depression medication. Therapy is another way to deal with a depressed mood. 

Whether you have a history of depression, just had your first depressive episode or want to explore your risk of depression, it’s a good idea to have an online psychiatry consultation with a healthcare provider. 

10 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. What is Depression? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression
  2. Systemic. Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002294.htm#:~:text=Systemic%20means%20affecting%20the%20entire,is%20called%20a%20systemic%20infection.
  3. Sotelo, J., Nemeroff, C., (2017). Depression as a systemic disease. Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S246817171630014X
  4. Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  5. Gautam, M., Tripathi, A., Deshmukh, D., Gaur, M., (2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7001356/
  6. Hyman, S.E. (2005, March 8). Neurotransmitters. Current Biology. 15 (5), PR154-R158. Retrieved from https://www.cell.com/current-biology/comments/S0960-9822(05)00208-3
  7. What causes depression? (2019, June 24). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression
  8. What Meds Treat Depression? Mental Health America. Retrieved from https://screening.mhanational.org/content/what-meds-treat-depression/
  9. Atypical Antidepressants. Mental Health America. Retrieved from https://screening.mhanational.org/content/atypical-antidepressants/
  10. How Depression Affects the Brain. (June 17, 2021). Yale Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/neurobiology-depression

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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