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Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world, affecting over 280 million people worldwide. The term “depression” by itself often refers to major depressive disorder (MDD). However, there are other kinds of depressive disorders, including seasonal affective disorder (occurs at certain times of year); dysthymia (a mild but persistent form); and postpartum depression (manifests after pregnancy). These variants are usually referred to by their specific names.

To qualify for a diagnosis of MDD, someone must have a low mood every day, for most of the day, lasting at least two weeks. “Low mood” can mean sadness, but it can also mean guilt, irritability, or a sense of worthlessness. It is also common for people with depression to be emotionally “numb,” not getting any pleasure from activities they used to enjoy (this is called anhedonia).

Depression also has physical symptoms. Common ones include low energy, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbances. Rarer symptoms of depression include heaviness in one’s limbs (leaden paralysis) or extreme rigidity and unresponsiveness (catatonia). While depression can certainly have environmental influences, it is also linked to tangible, biological changes in the body. These may be an imbalance in chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, the onset of an endocrine disorder, inflammation caused by immune system issues, and so on. 

Depression cannot be overcome through willpower or positive thinking. Psychotherapy and psychiatric medications can help many individuals improve their symptoms and thus their quality of life. While depression is a serious condition, those who experience and treat it can also offer stories of resilience, rewarding relationships, resources, and solutions. Listen carefully for those angles too as you shape your approach to reporting.

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Depression is a mood disorder causing persistent negative affect. It cannot be overcome through willpower or positive thinking. Using the term casually or colloquially in your reporting can trivialize the experience of living with depression as a clinical condition. While depression is a serious mental and public health issue, reporting on effective treatment and stories of recovery is also key to comprehensive coverage. Using specifics and person-first language (for example, “X lives with depression,” “experiences depression,” “is being treated for depression”) frames the condition as just one aspect of someone’s identity that doesn’t define them.

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