This site is a compendium of science-based, positive psychological wisdom. The focus isn’t on pathology or mental illness. Instead, the pages on this site center around particular skills of well-being, presenting theories and tips for their cultivation.

But this page is different. It addresses well-being from an angle of absence: Depression.

On this page, we will take a broad look at Depression. We’ll learn what it is, why it is so common, how it is treated, how it is connected to a sense of meaning in life, and what one can do to address and prevent depression.

Find Immediate Support

This site is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, treatment, medical treatment, psychotherapy, counseling, or mental health services. If you or someone you know is in crisis or having suicidal or self-harming thoughts, then play it safe:

It really does not hurt to call, even if you aren’t sure. There are people out there that want to help.

*Use of this site may be an antidote to the modern onslaught of depression-inducing content.

Assess Your Factors of Well-Being

Learn where you can grow.
Use the most comprehensive psychological assessment center on the web, measuring over 50 factors and hundreds of subfactors.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mental illness characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities Depression is not the same as sadness, anxiety, or grieving. If you are dealing with Grief or Loss check out the section on that subject for methods on healthy grieving.

Depression can last from weeks to years. Its causes can be physiological—like a thyroid problem, brain tumor, or vitamin deficiency—but it is most often caused by complex combinations of environmental, biological, and psychological factors.

The symptoms of depression can take many forms:

  • difficulty focusing
  • lack of interest in things
  • excessive sleeping
  • fatigue
  • lowered appetite
  • weight loss or gain
  • feelings of shame or guilt
  • thoughts of suicide

And depression often comes with a variety of vicious cycles that reinforce the depression’s staying power.

“I know I’m depressed. People won’t / don’t like that, so I’ll continue isolating myself and harboring feelings of worthlessness.” – Yikes!

Depression is Common

About 5% of adults worldwide suffer from depression, and in the United States that number is especially high.

In 2020, 9 percent of Americans aged 12 or older experienced a past-year major depressive episode. About 16.6 percent of people experience depression at some point in their lives. That’s one in six!

Despite how common depression may be,  people with depression tend to go without diagnosis or help, and they may feel shame about their own depression, enforcing those vicious cycles.

A Caveat

Some people are simply wired for depression (Beck 2008). There are genetic and biochemical processes that may not require any or strong environmental factors. Offering that there is a magic pill or treatment that can cure all forms of depression is inaccurate and unhelpful. While most cases are highly treatable, any cure or treatment or advice is with enormous amounts of salt and humility and awe.  Sometimes, the genetic/biochemical forces are stronger than the forces present that promote well-being.

There is some amount of hope for every case, and some people’s depression, because of their predisposition, is easier or more challenging to address. Even the most severe cases are highly treatable. Considering depression’s vicious cycles, attending to it early and prevention are the most reliable.

How Depression Is Treated

Commonly, a combination of psychotherapy and medication is used to treat depression.


There are many therapeutic approaches to depression out there. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for one, has been shown to be effective (Furlong 2002), both alone and in combination with drug therapy.

Most forms of therapy can be thought of as scaffolding improvement in a patient’s own thoughts and behaviors. For example, therapy for depression is likely to involve restructuring thought habits, which is what this website aims to do, especially with the various “Enablers of Well-Being.” By learning different ways of thinking and practicing/habituating them, especially changing or scaling one’s perspective around related stressors, we can stop depression and escape its vicious cycles. In line with its new popularity, there is growing evidence that Mindfulness meditation can be effective against depression (Deng 2014). It essentially stops it before it starts by helping us disengage from negative thought patterns.

Many approaches to therapy can be thought of as exercising one’s factors of well-being. And, more on that later.


You’ve probably heard something like this before: “Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain.” Where did this common refrain come from?

In the 1960s, the serotonin theory of depression was first proposed (Coppen 1967). By the 1990s, this theory was promoted widely by the pharmaceutical industry, and by now it is well established, informing the perspectives of the public and the professionals who treat them.

While there is some truth to the serotonin theory (just about any mental illness could be classified as a “chemical imbalance”), this framing might preemptively rationalize the blanket usefulness of chemical treatment. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) now comprise the majority of all antidepressant medication, which was a 13.5 billion dollar industry in 2020 (Swain 2021).

Like depression itself, medical treatment of depression is complex. They can and often do genuinely help people with depression.

And, there are a few important caveats:

  • Antidepressants don’t work the way most people think – Both therapists and the public continue to misunderstand antidepressants, their mechanics in the brain, and especially their role in society. Despite being far along in society’s antidepressant use, there is plenty of recent science challenging their efficacy and actions in the brain (Almohammed 2022, Moncrieff 2022)
  • Long-term benefits and risks of antidepressants are a mystery – Most research on antidepressants’ success is about short-term effects on depression. The effects of long-term use—plus the effects of any amount of use over a person’s entire life—are largely understudied. As always, long-term psychological studies are difficult and rare, and antidepressants are relatively new in society.
  • Antidepressants are wildly over-prescribed – Before COVID, almost 13 percent of American adults were taking an antidepressant drug, and that number has, predictably, risen dramatically. Zoloft, an SSRI, is the 12th most-prescribed medication in the U.S.

So, yes, it’s important to consider the efficacy of medication in treating depression, especially if they are used short-term and in combination with other methods.
But antidepressants are not silver bullets. Medicine is business, and even though these medicines have become widespread (and very, very profitable), they may not be the best things for us.

Most importantly, antidepressants could numb and distract us from treating the causes of depression at their roots.

If you seek professional help for depression, you may receive either or both therapy and medication.
And, hopefully, therapy is tried first. It has been shown to be as effective as medication, and at times more effective (Driesen 2010, DeRubeis 2008).

Depression and Meaning In Life

Depression’s umbrella is broader than the chemical imbalance or severe trauma that necessitates medication.

In this TED talk, Johann Hari broadens the view of depression as a chemical imbalance, or a broken brain that needs a simple fix.

“Every human being has natural psychological needs. You need to feel you belong. You need to feel your life has meaning and purpose. You need to feel that people see you and value you. You need to feel you’ve got a future that makes sense.
And this culture we built is good at lots of things. […] But we’ve been getting less and less good at meeting these deep, underlying psychological needs.
If you’re depressed or anxious, you’re not weak and you’re not crazy — you’re a human being with unmet needs.”

When we consider depression through a lens of unmet needs, it becomes clearer how our ways of treating it might treat the symptoms (like feelings of sadness) instead of the cause. Even happiness can be a numbing agent, distracting us from our root causes of depression.

Despite the relative abundance of modern human society—there is more literacy, less war, longer lifespans, and greater food security than any other time in human history—depression is an epidemic. Looking at the last century, depression is rearing its head more as time moves forward. Some psychologists consider it a “disease of modernity” (Hidaka 2012).

Especially in the Western world, we can easily get caught up in a hustle, working to meet our basic needs within systems that have evolved to maximize economic output, not human well-being. Even those of us who have achieved “success” in today’s advanced societies might be missing core elements of a well-lived life, like depth in our relationships, feeling that we belong to a community, having a sense of purpose.

As far as what is causing the soaring rates of depression in the world today, there are many theories. Looking broadly, the problem is pretty clear:

Our epidemic of depression might be connected to our modern crisis of meaning.

Across varying ages and nationalities, low meaning in life is a major predictive factor in depression, rivaled perhaps only by physical health problems in those struggling with chronic illness (Barton 2017, Pitanupong 2023, Hedayati 2014, Radicic 2019, Macia 2021)

The benefits of meaning in life are clear and striking.
Not only is a sense of meaning and purpose like an antidote to depression, it even shows benefits to one’s physical health, career success, and other less-than-obvious aspects of life.

Check out the “Why Meaning?” page and the infographic on the power of meaning:

*Click for the full infographic.

Tools for Depression Found Here

If you are struggling with depression—especially if you are one of the many people who are encountering suicidal ideation—reach out and find professional help. There is help out there for you.

While a therapist will have knowledge and training to help you address depression, there is no silver bullet. What a therapist will do is advise you on your journey of working on your own well-being.

That is what this site is all about.

What You’ll Find Here

Meaning is key to living well, but that isn’t the end of the story.

Across this site, meaning and its four cornerstones (love, service, expression, and discovery) are part of a handful of models for understanding well-being.

Psychological well-being is both an art and a science. Understanding and practicing its many interrelated factors is a lifelong journey that we are all on together.

This site is a massive collection of information, tools, and resources, for improving your life. Here is an overview of how you can utilize it to combat and prevent depression, and live your life more optimally.

Assess Your Factors of Well-Being

Start with pinpointing your Strengths, Capabilities, and Growth Zones. The Assessment Center is the most comprehensive collection of well-being assessments on the web. You can use it to measure over 50 factors and hundreds of subfactors on what brings you joy, from the cornerstones of meaning to your sense of Hope and Curiosity.

Understand “Happiness”

Step back and start over on how you think about so-called “happiness.” Learn what makes the language we use for well-being so misleading, get to know the four Elements of Well-Being, uncover how happiness itself can hinder living to the fullest.

Practice the Enablers

These are the ‘life skills’ that make us better at the human experience. They strengthen the cornerstones of meaning and scaffold living with more grace and mastery. They are skills like Mindfulness, Gratitude, Challenge, and many more.

For those above and every subject covered on this site, you will find a curated walkthrough for understanding that piece of the well-being journey, sprinkled with exercises and resources from around the web.

As you travel, especially if you are wrestling with depression now, remember that you are not alone. The journey of well-being is one we all share, and we are in it together.

On Depression

Understanding Depression

  • Psychology Today: Basics of Depression – A bit more depth than what’s offered here on the basics of depression, including insightful stats and helpful treatment options.
  • Detecting Depression – A challenging part of depression can be recognizing it. This article from WebMD gives some helpful tips for detecting it in yourself and others.
  • Sneaky Depression Triggers as you Age: A slideshow from WebMD exposing things that can cause depression as you age.
  • How Miserable Are We Supposed to Be? – A guest essay remarking on the difficulty of separating depression from low mood.

Practical Guides and Resources

  • American Psychological Association – This page offers some quick links on understanding and treating depression, and gives you a database for finding a psychologist.
  • This Way Up – clinically proven online courses for helping with depression and other mental health issues.
  • 7 Cups – It’s the 21st century. You can connect with caring listeners online for emotional support, free.
  • Woebot – “An AI chatbot for mental health? No way.” Yes. WAY. There is research showing that Woebot’s algorithms help people. It’s free and can be used with facebook messenger and other apps.
  • Conquering Depression 101 – A video outline of a course that presents a handful of core skills to overcome depression.
  • Helpguide: Coping with Depression – a more extensive article about methods for battling depression, including a ‘wellness toolbox’ and a short list of helpful organizations.

Personal Stories

Problems With Medical Treatment

Helping Others

On Suicide


Johann Harri: This could be why you’re depressed
This talk approaches the core misconceptions and causes of Depression. Meaning and Purpose are central.

Clinical Depression by Osmosis
An informative look at the clinical types of depression. 10.5 min

The Lesser-Known Symptoms of Depression
What it really can feel like to be in those shoes. 5.5 min
(Lots of valuable facts. Visit youtube page for sources)

We Need to Talk about Depression
An informative and detailed video from Johns Hopkins about Depression, with informative statistics and need-to-know insights. 12 min

Depression: A Student’s Perspective
Demystifying depression and sharing information for students. 6 min

‘I’m Fine’: Learning to Live with Depression
This TED talk personalizes and gives a deep look into the life of someone who is depressed. 16 min

Depression and Bipolar Disorder
Incredible as always, Crash Course gives an academic look at the psychology of Depression and Bipolar Disorder. 10 min

John Vaervaeke – Awakening from the Meaning Crisis
An academic look at the crisis of meaning, spoken of here on the Psychology podcast.


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  2. Barton, Y. A., Barkin, S. H., & Miller, L. (2017). Deconstructing depression: A latent profile analysis of potential depressive subtypes in emerging adults. Spirituality in Clinical Practice (Washington, D.C.), 4(1), 1–21.
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  13. Moncrieff, J., Cooper, R. E., Stockmann, T., Amendola, S., Hengartner, M. P., & Horowitz, M. A. (2022). The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence. Molecular Psychiatry, 1–14.
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