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What Is Depression?

The term Depression refers to a disturbance in mood that is characterized by varying degrees of sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, self-doubt, or guilt. While most people may experience one or more of these symptoms at some point in their lives, for some people these feelings can occur with great frequency, or may last for long periods of time. There are varying levels of depression:

  • The most common type of depression is mild, with symptoms that are brief or may only minimally impact someone’s activities. Some people may call this “the blahs” or simply “feeling sad,” and it often goes away quickly.
  • Moderate depression involves symptoms that are more intense and may last for a longer period of time. In addition, a person may find it more difficult to function on a daily basis, but generally can find ways to cope with their feelings with some help. In some cases, a person may begin to consider suicide as an option.
  • Severe depression can result in a loss of pleasure in all activities, extreme fluctuations in mood, and intense feelings of hopelessness. A person may withdraw from most or all activities, and have almost no motivation to interact with others. Suicidality risk is increased with individuals who are severely depressed.

Clinical depression affects all aspects of a person's life. It impairs our ability to sleep, eat, work, and get along with others. It damages our self-esteem, self-confidence, and our ability to accomplish everyday tasks. People who are depressed find daily tasks to be a significant struggle. They tire easily, yet cannot get a good night's sleep. They have no motivation and lose interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Depression puts a dark, gloomy cloud over how we see ourselves, the world, and our future. This cloud cannot be willed away, nor can we ignore it and have it magically disappear.

Symptoms of Depression

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Becoming over-emotional (crying uncontrollably, lashing out on others), or possibly becoming emotionally blunted and unresponsive
  • A lack of interest and/or inability to find pleasure in activities
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness
  • Complaints about lack of energy or fatigue
  • An exaggerated sense of guilt or self-blame
  • Loss of sexual interest and desire
  • Change in sleep habits, such as insomnia or increased need for sleep
  • Poor concentration, impaired memory, indecisiveness
  • Neglecting one’s appearance
  • Increased irritability
  • Dissatisfaction with life in general
  • Reduction in the ability to cope with stress
  • Change in appetite, either increased or significantly decreased
  • Physical complaints such as headaches, muscle pain, stomach pain, or nausea
  • Suicidal ideation

Causes of Depression

Depression is often the result of an event such as the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or severe academic problems. Sometimes a person will have a genetic predisposition toward depression, which may include chemical imbalances in the brain or a family history of mental illness. Environmental and lifestyle factors may also be involved in depression, such as a person’s diet, medication use, and level of activity. When the source of depression is easy to determine and the person is aware of how he or she is being affected, the initial reaction may be moderate to strong but will likely reduce with time. However, in some cases the source of one’s feelings of depression is not apparent or clear, and as a result a person may become more depressed over time and feel as if he/she has no control over their feelings.

In general, depression may be viewed as a withdrawal from physical or psychological stress. Identifying and understanding the underlying causes of such stress is a necessary step in learning to cope with depression.

Types of Depression

There are many different ways that depression can manifest itself, and these can be categorized into depressive disorders, which a professional therapist can help to diagnose. Some of the more common depressive disorders include:

  • Major Depressive Disorder: This type of depression impacts a person’s ability to function on a daily basis, and may make it difficult to eat, sleep, work, or study. People may no longer enjoy activities that they once thought were pleasurable, and they may begin to see themselves and the world in negative ways. Major Depressive Disorder may be successfully treated, but may return several times in a person’s life.
  • Dysthymic Disorder: Dysthymic Disorder is less severe than Major Depressive Disorder, but may also last for a longer period of time. A person with Dysthymia may appear to be mildly depressed for so long, it becomes a part of their identity, both to themselves and to others.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This disorder may affect people at specific times of the year, typically during the winter months. A person may start to feel depressed and a lack of energy during these periods, but at other times of the year may appear to be very normal.
  • Mood Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition: Depression may be caused by a variety of medical conditions, such as hormonal imbalances or physical injury.
  • Substance-Induced Mood Disorder: A person’s use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol can result in symptoms of depression, as the body attempts to adjust to the ingestion of toxins.

What Should I Do if I Feel Depressed?

If you find yourself experiencing some of these symptoms, we encourage you to reflect on why you may be feeling what you are feeling. Has there been a recent stressor or difficult situation in your life? Is this a new experience for you, or have you felt this way before? Remember that feeling down is sometimes an appropriate (and understandable) reaction to an event, but over time you should be able to recover. Sometimes, however, it may prove to be too difficult to do so. We encourage you to consider contacting a mental health professional at the Drexel University Counseling Center at (215) 895-1415 to schedule an appointment. In addition, you may want to attempt to make some changes in your daily routine, such as:

  • Build structure into your day by setting small, reasonable goals and achieving them.
  • Try to find some fun and pleasurable activity every day, particularly something that you really enjoy that will help you to expend excess energy. Change your normal routine if you must, and get involved even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Stay active by exercising, which can work off tension and help you relax.
  • Get enough sleep each night, but be careful not to get too much!
  • Avoid situations or individuals that you know will increase your stress or depressive symptoms.
  • Make changes to your eating habits. Cut back on junk food and eat healthier.
  • Give yourself permission to experience your feelings when they happen.
  • Keep a journal, which will allow you to write about what you are feeling instead of keeping it all inside.
  • Challenge your negative self-talk by acknowledging what is true, real, and observable, instead of making assumptions about a situation. And focus on the positive!
  • Develop a support system, which may include family, friends, faculty, or professional counselors.
  • See a physician, especially if physical complaints persist.

Asking for help may seem like the hardest thing to do in the world, especially when you feel exhausted and hopeless. Regardless of your level or type of depression, speaking with a professional can help to determine what may be going on for you and a plan of attack for treating your symptoms.

How Can I Help Someone Who May Be Depressed?

You may know a friend who you suspect is depressed. Very often a person who is severely depressed will withdraw and avoid social contact, or may appear lethargic, sad, or irritable. He or she may also possibly be considering suicide.  Being a friend can make a difference between life and death. Talk openly with the person that you are concerned about, and express your support for helping him or her share their thoughts and feelings.

The American College Health Association advises that you should avoid the following:

  • Don’t try to “cheer up” the person
  • Don’t criticize or shame the person. Blaming him or her can backfire and make the situation worse.
  • Don’t sympathize or claim that you understand how he or she feels
  • Don’t get angry with the person


When someone is depressed, he or she may feel so hopeless that suicide seems like the only answer. If you or someone you know are in a crisis or feels suicidal, immediately call Drexel University Public Safety at (215) 895-2222, or dial 911 for local emergency services. You can also contact the Drexel University Counseling Center at (215) 895-1415 during business hours, or call the On-Call counselor at (215) 416-3337, or the Philadelphia Suicide and Crisis Center at (215) 686-4420 if after hours or on the weekend. You may also go directly to a local emergency room.

Internet Resources about Depression

The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.