This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 12 table of contents.


Affective (AFF-ect-iv) disorders are disturbances of mood. Depression is the most common. In its most severe form, depression is crippling. Typical symptoms are hopelessness, inability to take initiative, and "frozen emotions." The present moment seems joyless if not unbearable; the future seems bleak.

What are symptoms of depression?

Large numbers of people (10-20% of all women, 5-10% of all men) experience acute depression at least once in their lives. Sufferers include great people of history such as Darwin and Churchill. They unanimously report great psychological pain associated with depression. Unfortunately, adults who have experienced one episode of depression have a 50% chance of another.

What are possible reasons that twice as many women as men report depression?

Why is the reported incidence of depression twice as high among women as it is among men? Possibly female biochemistry or reaction to hormones is different, but there may be other explanations. Men are generally more reluctant than women to seek treatment, and they may regard an admission of depression as a sign of weakness. Another possibility suggested by mental health experts is that alcoholism serves as a mask for depression in many men.

Whatever the reason that females suffer from more depression, it is probably not specific to Western culture; the 2-to-1 ratio is found throughout the world in different cultures. In all cultures, depression is most common in women of childbearing age (Weissman & Olfson, 1995).

What is post-partum depression?

Depression can be triggered by many factors. Some women experience depression after a childbirth (post-partum depression). No doubt this is partly due to the hormonal changes accompanying pregnancy and childbirth, although environmental factors seem to be involved as well. True post-partum depression is different from the "baby blues"—a feeling of letdown—which about three-quarters of women experience in weeks after delivery. True post-partum depression affects 10% to 20% of women and can last for months.

What famous figure suffered from it?

Psychiatrists have found that post-partum depression is more common when a baby is "difficult" or a woman feels unloved (Vandershaf, 1987). Princess Diana suffered post-partum depression after one of her two sons was born. She went public with her story, to the applause of British mental health workers, who said it helped women to talk about similar experiences.

What is SAD and how can it be cured?

Lack of sunlight can trigger depression in some people, apparently by lowering levels of the hormone melatonin. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) occurs when people fall into a depression during winter months (Hellman, 1982). It can be cured by spending some time in front of bright lamps for several hours a day during winter months, simulating the effects of a longer day. SAD is common only in the northern latitudes where the sun does not shine brightly during the winter. In countries like Finland, which historically had one of the highest rates of depression, light rooms are now a fixture of many houses, along with the traditional sauna.

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