1. Increased risk for substance misuse and suicide
    1. People experiencing depression are at increased risk for substance misuse and suicide. Depression can coexist with other conditions, most frequently substance use disorder and anxiety disorders.
  2. Importance of treatment
    1. If untreated, depression can interfere with work, school, relationships, physical health, and overall quality of life. However, those who are diagnosed early and adhere to treatment plans are often able to feel better or recover completely.
  3. Depict the realities of depression
    1. Depression is more than everyday sadness — and for people living with clinical depression, it can be frustrating when friends or family don’t understand that. Look for opportunities to show what depression really is, how it impacts people, and how it can be effectively managed.

Storytelling Tips

Portray a Range of Mental Health Experiences
  • Look for opportunities to show what distinguishes clinical depression from everyday sad feelings.
  • For people living with depression, it can be frustrating when friends, family members and coworkers don’t understand how their struggles differ from general sadness or occasional bouts of “feeling down.” 
Diversify Representation
Spotlight Support From Family and Friends
  • Portray the process of getting help and the therapeutic process, which may increase a viewer’s willingness to seek help themselves. 
  • Some people who are struggling with depression may not reach out for help because they are skeptical about mental health services, don’t think therapy or treatment will work for them, or don’t believe they have access to those services. 


Depression, also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression, is more than just everyday sadness or going through a difficult time. It’s a mood disorder that is diagnosed when a person experiences symptoms that include a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure for at least two weeks. 

If untreated, depression can interfere with work, school, relationships, physical health, and overall quality of life. Many people who are diagnosed early and adhere to a treatment plan, which may include therapy, medication, self-care, and lifestyle changes regarding diet, exercise, sleep, and other aspects of everyday life, are able to feel better or recover completely. 

Like most mental health challenges, the causes of depression can be a variety of intersecting factors, including genetics, upbringing, life experiences, trauma, other medical conditions, and other circumstances. 

People experiencing depression are at increased risk for substance misuse and suicide compared to people without depression. Depression can also coexist with other conditions, most frequently substance use disorder and anxiety disorders.

Facts & Stats

Approximately 7% of the U.S. population experiences a major depressive episode each year.
Almost 40% of people who experienced a major depressive episode did not receive treatment for their condition.
Depression can develop at any age, but average onset is 32.5 years old.
Adults with a depressive disorder or symptoms have a 64% greater risk of developing coronary artery disease. 
21% of adults with a substance use disorder also experienced a major depressive episode in 2018.

Types of Depression

  • Major depression is the most common form of depression and involves having symptoms of depression most of the day, almost every day, that interfere with one’s ability to work, sleep, study, or enjoy life for at least two weeks.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (or dysthymia) refers to a low mood that has lasted at least two years. These symptoms may never reach the level of major depression.
  • Bipolar depression (formerly called manic depression) involves extreme shifts in mood that include emotional highs called mania and low periods of depression.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that usually starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer.
  • Perinatal depression: Women experiencing perinatal depression go through a period of major depression during pregnancy or after delivery (postpartum depression).

Symptoms & Warning Signs

  • Persistently sad, anxious, irritable, or empty mood
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Significant change in appetite and/or weight
  • Overreaction to criticisms
  • Feeling unable to meet expectations
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Treatment Options

  • Psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, family-focused therapy, and interpersonal therapy
  • Medications, including antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications
  • Brain stimulation therapies can be tried if psychotherapy and/or medication are not effective. These include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) for severe depressive disorder that is treatment resistant or transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) for severe depression.
  • Light therapy, which uses a light box to expose a person to full-spectrum light in an effort to regulate the hormone melatonin
  • Self-Care and Wellness practices including acupuncture, meditation, faith, exercise, and nutrition can be part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

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Mental health is a continuum that we all move across throughout our lives. At one end we are doing well and thriving, in the middle we’re finding ways to cope with struggles and challenges, and at the far end those struggles are interfering with central aspects of our lives — school, work, relationships — and negatively impacting our overall well-being. In the simplest definition, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders are diagnosed when someone experiences the concerning end of the continuum for a period of weeks or months. Like many physical illnesses, these conditions are the result of a convergence of internal, external, and societal factors

Mental health conditions are common in the United States, with 1 in 5 adults experiencing a mental health condition each year. Most people will show their first symptoms of a mental health condition between their mid-teens and 20s, though this can differ depending on factors like gender and the type of condition. Some people may experience comorbidity — or managing multiple mental health conditions simultaneously, like depression and an eating disorder.

The most common types of mental health conditions (in order from most to least prevalent) within the United States are:

  • Depression: A mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and can impact ability to function.
  • Anxiety disorders: Conditions like social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), characterized by varying degrees and types of excessive fear and worry.
  • Substance use disorders: Occurs when a person continues to use substances after usage has led to health issues or problems at work, school, or home.
  • Eating disorders: Conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorders that involve severe disturbances in people’s body image, eating behaviors, and related thoughts and emotions.
  • Bipolar disorder: A condition that involves severe and uncontrollable mood shifts that include emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression).
  • Schizophrenia: A serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others.

As many as 90% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death, though in some cases the condition had not been diagnosed. The conditions most often associated with suicide are depression and substance use disorders.

While mental health conditions can impact thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in negative ways, these conditions are also treatable. For many people, the right treatment and self-care plan allows them to recover from the condition permanently or for a period of time and live a full, purposeful life. 

When developing stories about people living with mental health conditions, it’s important to ensure the condition isn’t being used to create an incapacity that can be exploited, to justify violent or frightening behavior, or to socially or physically isolate a character. Rather, look for opportunities to accurately and empathetically show the realities of these conditions — both the struggles and the opportunities for hope, help, and healing.

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