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What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major depressive disorder is a serious condition that affects all aspects of your health and well-being.

If you suspect you suffer from depression, including major depression, you're not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depression—also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder (MDD)—is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. By some estimates, up to 10% of Americans have major depression at any given time, and up to 25% will suffer from MDD at some point in their lives.

MDD affects your mood, body, behavior, and mind to impact all aspects of your life. Major depression can interfere with your ability to work, sleep, and interact with family and friends. In the workplace alone, depression costs an estimated $34 billion annually in lost productivity and absenteeism.

No one knows exactly what causes major depression, though most experts believe it's due to chemical changes in the brain triggered by your genes; stressful events, such as the death of loved one, job loss, or divorce; or a combination of the two. Substance abuse and poor sleep can play role, too, as can certain medical conditions, such as an underactive thyroid.

Depression can be a chronic disease, and a person who has one episode of depression has a 50% risk of suffering another. That makes recognizing and treating major depression all the more important. Here's the good news: More than 80% of people with major depression can be successfully treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Here's the sad news: An estimated two-thirds of depressed people don't seek treatment and, therefore, suffer unnecessarily, according to the NIMH.

The first step to feeling better is to recognize that you may have symptoms of major depression. Then seek diagnosis and treatment so you can begin to reclaim your life.

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