What is a depressive disorder?

What is a depressive disorder?

Page last updated: May 2007

The word 'depression' is commonly used to describe the feelings of sadness that all of us experience at times in our lives. It is also a term used to describe a number of diagnosable depressive disorders.

Because feelings of depression are so common, it is important to understand the difference between unhappiness and sadness in daily life and the symptoms of a depressive disorder.

When faced with stress, such as the loss of a loved one, relationship breakdown or great disappointment or frustration, most people will feel unhappy or sad. These are emotional reactions that are appropriate to the situation and will usually last only a limited time. These reactions are not regarded as depressive disorder, but are part of everyday life.

Depressive disorders are a group of illnesses characterised by excessive or long-term depressed mood and loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. The symptoms can severely disrupt the person’s life.

Depressive disorders are common and around one in five people will experience depressive disorder at some time during their lives.

Depressive disorders are serious and distressing illnesses with real risks to the person's life and well-being. Professional assessment and treatment is necessary. In severe instances, hospitalisation may be required initially. Fortunately, treatment of depression is usually very effective.