Depression affects more than 17 million people a year and is common among college populations. You may frequently hear someone say, "I'm depressed," but clinical depression differs in many ways from a sad mood. It lasts longer (at least two weeks) and affects more than just one's mood. It is not something that you can just "snap out of."

Symptoms of clinical depression usually begin by early adulthood. In addition to depressed mood, symptoms of depression can include:

  • Change in appetite with significant weight loss or gain
  • Disturbed sleep patterns (difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much)
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in life
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of inappropriate guilt
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
  • Physical changes (headaches or constipation)

The good news is that depression is a very treatable disorder. From 80 percent to 90 percent of people will improve significantly with treatment, with almost all obtaining some relief of symptoms. Treatment for depression can include psychotherapy (that includes counseling) and medications, often used in combination. Psychotherapy can be provided by many mental health professionals, including social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.

All of the commonly used antidepressants are effective for clinical depression. They are not addictive substances, but do take time to work (on average about two to four weeks). In general they are safe and well tolerated medications. Some of the side effects, when present, tend to be mild and transient. The side effects of medications have to be weighed against the risks of the illness. Ask your healthcare professional about possible side effects of all prescribed drugs.