Psychology Depressive Disorders
Lawrence P. Riso, Matthew Vaughn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0171


Depression 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 depression 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 forms of 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.” There is a very large literature on the etiology and treatment of depression.

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. A more recent compendium on depressive disorders, Gotlib and Hammen 2009, is one of the most comprehensive single works devoted to depression. 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 in men. The most influential theoretical model for the development of depression in the literature is the cognitive perspective (i.e., a focus on thoughts, assumptions, and underlying beliefs). Ingram, et al. 2011 is exclusively devoted to the explication and evaluation of the cognitive model for depression. This volume, in its authoritative overview, pays close attention to the empirical support for the model. Over the last two to three decades, there has been increasing attention to 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. For those looking for a concise general overview of depressive disorders, there is a recent book chapter in Ritschel, et al. 2013 addressing major depressive disorder, and another, Klein and Black 2013, that reviews chronic depression.

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

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

  • Gotlib, I. H., and C. L. Hammen, eds. 2009. Handbook of depression. 2d ed. New York: Guilford.

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    This is the most extensive 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.

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    This is a follow-up 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.

  • Klein, D. N., and S. R. Black. 2013. Persistent depressive disorder: Dysthymia and chronic depression. In Psychopathology: History, diagnosis, and empirical foundations. 2d ed. Edited by W. E. Craighead, D. J. Miklowitz, and L. W. Craighead, 334–355. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    This chapter presents an up-to-date examination of chronic depression. It covers assessment, course, etiology, and treatment. It also reviews the literature that contributed to the formation of the new DSM-5 category “persistent depressive disorder.”

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

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    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.

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    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 described in this volume continue to influence modern-day classification of depressive disorders.

  • Ritschel, L. A., C. F. Gillespie, E. Ö. Arnarson, and W. E. Craighead. 2013. Major depressive disorder. In Psychopathology: History, diagnosis, and empirical foundations. 2d ed. Edited by W. E. Craighead, D. J. Miklowitz, and L. W. Craighead, 285–333. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    The chapter focuses specifically on major depressive disorder. It provides excellent coverage of biological and cognitive (with a focus on Aaron T. Beck) theories.

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