Depressive Episode

What is a depressive episode?

A depressive episode describes a period of time which is characterized by having a low mood, or feeling down. This is a common condition, and around 1 in 6 people will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime. People suffering from this condition feel down or sad, without energy and without motivation most of the time for at least 2 weeks. Treatment depends on the severity of the depression, and can include counseling, psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. A depressive episode may be a single event or may develop into recurrent or persistent depression. Depressive episodes can also be the first sign of a bipolar affective disorder, though this is uncommon.


Depression affects women slightly more often than men, and is more common in younger and older adults. Around 1 in 6 people will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime.


During an episode of depression, people feel sad or down the majority of the time. They have difficulty motivating themselves and tire easily. They often find that they do not enjoy life as much as they used to. Many people experience negative feelings, such as hopelessness, worthlessness, emptiness or guilt. Depressive episodes also often have physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, a lack of appetite, headaches, difficulty concentrating and tiredness.


Diagnosis of depression is based on the symptoms experienced by the affected person. A doctor should rule out other causes of the symptoms, such as certain medications, infections or endocrine conditions, before making the diagnosis. Some blood tests can be helpful to rule out these other causes. Keeping a diary which documents mood, sleep, energy and thoughts might be helpful in making the diagnosis.


The treatment of an episode of depression is guided by the severity of the depression and the circumstances of the affected person. Common options for treatment involve counseling, antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. In severe cases, hospitalization might be needed while therapy is started, or to keep the depressed person safe. Additional methods, such as exercise, light therapy or social support groups can also be very helpful.


Although it might not be possible to prevent depression, some things are known to help protect people against depression or severe cases of depression. These include: positive social relationships, reducing stress, and exercise.

Other names for depressive episode

  • Major Depression
  • Depression
  • Mild Depression
  • Dysthymia
  • Chronic depression
  • Dysthymic Disorder
  • Neurotic depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Affective disorder
  • Mood disorder