Clinical depression is a medical illness similar to pneumonia that even the strongest person cannot overcome without treatment. Clinical depression is similar to heart disease and cancer in that all of us have a susceptibility to each. If we have a family history of one of these illnesses, our susceptibility increases. This explains how some develop clinical depression only after extraordinary stressors, and others develop clinical depression seemingly out of the blue. Clinical depression is a very common illness that affects approximately 3-5% of the population at any one time. There is a 20% chance of having an episode of clinical depression at some point in one's life. The percentages are similar for the general population and college students.
Clinical depression is readily treatable with counseling and/or medication. Medication can correct the chemical imbalance (low levels of brain serotonin and norepinephrine) that is found in people with symptoms consistent with clinical depression. Unfortunately, fifty percent of people who have clinical depression never get help and suffer silently. Untreated, the average clinical depression can last 9-12 months. With treatment, people often report significant relief within 4-6 weeks.
Clinical depression often has its first onset in people between the ages of 18 and 22. Many stressors are inherent to these years, which may contribute to the onset of clinical depression: separating physically and psychologically from ones family, managing the increase in freedom, dealing with the successes and disappointments that occur in academics, athletic, and extracurricular activities, developing and losing love relationships, experiencing death for the first time with the loss of a friend or family member, choosing a major, finding a job, leaving the familiarity and security of college for the real world.