Psychology Depressive Disorders
Lawrence P. Riso, Matthew Vaughn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0171


Depression is distinguished from ordinary sadness by its greater duration, severity, and impact on functioning. It is a highly prevalent condition, often with an early onset. Nearly a quarter of all individuals will experience a diagnosable depression at some point in their lifetimes. The early onset and recurrent nature of depression contribute to making it the most burdensome illness in the entire world, according to the World Health Organization. Over the last thirty years, the diagnosis of depression has changed little. Since 1980, every edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has included a category for severe acute depression (i.e., “major depression” or “major depressive disorder”) and a category for chronic depression (i.e., “dysthymia,” “dysthymic disorder,” or “persistent depressive disorder”). The current edition of the DSM (DSM-5) includes two main categories, “major depressive disorder” and “persistent depressive disorder.” Owing, perhaps, to its high prevalence rate and societal impact, depression is very well studied.

General Overviews

The German psychiatrist and descriptive psychopathologist Emil Kraepelin (Kraepelin 1921) provided an early comprehensive work describing depressive disorders. His ideas continue to influence modern conceptions of depressive disorders. Craighead, et al. 2017 provides a comprehensive overview of depressive disorders. A compendium on depressive disorders, Gotlib and Hammen 2014 is one of the most ambitious single works devoted to the illness. The chapters review an array of topics, including epidemiology, classification, personality function, cognitive-behavioral theories, biological theories, treatment, cultural factors, and suicidality. The chapter on epidemiology by Kessler and Wang reviews the prevalence of depression and notes the consistent finding that depression is twice as common in women as compared to men. Ingram, et al. 2011 is exclusively devoted to the explication and evaluation of the cognitive model (i.e., a focus on thoughts, assumptions, and underlying beliefs), which is the most influential theoretical model for the development and maintenance of depression. It provides an authoritative overview and pays close attention to the empirical support for the model. Over the last two to three decades, attention has focused increasingly on depression in its chronic form. Two edited volumes, Alpert and Fava 2004 and Kocsis and Klein 1995, focus entirely on chronic depression. Both volumes cover etiology and treatment. Alpert and Fava 2004 is somewhat more comprehensive.

  • Alpert, J. E., and M. Fava, eds. 2004. Handbook of chronic depression. New York: Marcel Dekker.

    An edited volume with a comprehensive overview of chronic depression. It covers a range of topics, including diagnosis, epidemiology, biological factors, etiology, and treatment.

  • Craighead, W. E., D. N. Klein, C. F. Gillespie, et al. 2017. Depressive disorders. In Psychopathology: History, diagnosis, and empirical foundations. 3d ed. Edited by W. E. Craighead, D. J. Miklowitz, and L. W. Craighead, 342–409. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

    This chapter covers classification, psychological and biological models, and treatment approaches. It provides one of the most comprehensive chapters on depression available with broad coverage of the empirical literature.

  • Gotlib, I. H., and C. L. Hammen, eds. 2014. Handbook of depression. 3d ed. New York: Guilford.

    This is the most extensive edited volume on depression available. The chapters offer brief but rigorous literature reviews. It reviews the empirical and theoretical literature with relatively less applied information.

  • Ingram, R. E., R. A. Atchley, and Z. V. Segal. 2011. Vulnerability to depression: From cognitive neuroscience to prevention and treatment. New York: Guilford.

    This is a follow-up work to an earlier volume by Ingram and colleagues that focused on cognitive vulnerability to depression. This updated book merges what we know about cognitive vulnerability with the latest findings in cognitive neuroscience.

  • Kocsis, J. H., and D. N. Klein, eds. 1995. Diagnosis and treatment of chronic depression. New York: Guilford.

    The editors of this volume have published numerous articles on chronic depression. The volume focuses mostly on diagnosis, assessment, course, and clinical correlates of chronic depression, although there are two chapters on treatment. At the time the book was published, the terms “dysthymic disorder” and “chronic major depressive disorder” were in widespread use. Virtually all of the contributors to the volume are prolific scholars on this topic.

  • Kraepelin, E. 1921. Manic depressive insanity and paranoia. Translated by R. M. Barclay. Edinburgh: E. and S. Livingstone.

    This is a translation of a classic text (from the eighth edition of Psychiatrie: Ein Lehrbuch für Studierende und Aerzte [Leipzig: J. A. Barth, 1913–1922]) by Emil Kraepelin, one of psychiatry’s most influential descriptive psychopathologists (often described as the “father of modern psychiatry”). The diagnostic distinctions he describes in this volume continue to influence modern-day classification of depressive disorders.

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