What is Clinical Depression?
Understand the Nature, Symptoms, and Internal Experience of the Most Common Mood Disorders

A course for the general public.

Depression, by some estimates, is the leading cause of disability in the developed world. Millions of people experience it each year. Yet many people who have depression have never been told much about it.

This course describes the nature of the most common mood disorders - including major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder. We review the symptoms used in making the diagnosis, and the challenges in properly diagnosing a problem for which there is no simple blood test.

The course provides a model - the Floating Diamond - for breaking down and understanding the various elements of the depressive experience. Using it, we discover that depression is not, in fact, a mood disorder. It is a disorder of virtually everything: physiology, thoughts, behaviour, and, yes, emotion.

We explore a central problem in depression: the fact that symptoms (such as sleep disruption) tend to feed back and intensify the disorder. Depression is not simply a vicious circle - it is a COLLECTION of vicious circles, all working at once.

We move beyond the diagnostic criteria to discuss the additional symptoms and aspects of the depressive experience, exploring factors such as brain fog, memory disruption, sexual problems, and more.


Depression is an enormous topic, and in this course we are mainly focussed on the experience of the problem. We do not go into detail about either causes or treatment approaches - these will be covered in other courses.

As well, this course is not a substitute for treatment, which should be carried out with the help of a qualified healthcare professional. We also caution against any attempt at self-diagnosis.

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You can read more about the course, preview some of the videos, and decide whether you want to take it.

You'll get a series of twelve video lectures, 6 to 18 minutes long, plus a 22-page downloadable PDF notes package so that you can follow along with the course.

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Course Curriculum

Lecture 1: Depression versus the blues

People frequently talk about being depressed - but what is the difference between this and clinical depression? This lecture provides an introduction to the course, the notes package, and the sequence of topics.

Lecture 2: Course notes

The 22-page course notes for the entire "What Is Depression?" course. Use it to follow along as you work through the course.

Lecture 3: The Floating Diamond Model - Depression is more than a mood disorder

Depression can feel like a confused mass of experiences, so it's helpful to tease the symptoms apart. The Floating Diamond divides symptoms into behavior, thought, emotion, and physiology while showing how these realms are all interconnected.

Lecture 4: Major Depressive Episode - Mood-related criteria

There are nine diagnostic symptoms for major depressive episodes, and an individual must have at least one of the first two. This lecture discusses the cardinal emotional symptoms of low mood and anhedonia.

Lecture 5: Major Depressive Episode - Other diagnostic criteria

We've covered two of the symptoms of major depressive episode, now it's time for the other seven.

Lecture 6: Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive episode describes a period of depression - but the actual diagnosis of major depressive disorder is a bit more complicated. While covering it, let's consider one or two of the controversies about diagnosis and depression.

Lecture 7: Additional symptoms of depression

The symptoms used in the diagnosis of depression aren't the only ones people experience; there are many more. Using the Floating Diamond, let's identify additional aspects of the depression experience.

Lecture 8: Snowballs and reverberations: How symptoms become causes

Depression differs from many other health problems because its symptoms become new causes, thus perpetuating itself. Snowballs are symptoms that feed back to magnify the depression generally, whereas reverberations bounce from node to node of the floating diamond, like a pinball machine.

Lecture 9: So is there Minor Depression?

The name "Major Depression" begs the question: Is there such a thing as Minor Depression? Yes, there is - and probably most of us will experience it. But is it a disorder, and does it need treatment? Here we tread into tricky territory, and consider a debate about diagnosis and the medicalization of normality.

Lecture 10: Dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder)

What happens if a lower-grade depression carries on and on and on? This problem, called dysthymia, brings its own challenges. In particular, as time passes a person may adopt a lifestyle that supports and fits the mood problem more than it fits them. As well, the low mood can become part of the self-image, making change a daunting concept.

Lecture 11: Bipolar Disorder

For some people the mood goes not only unusually low, but also troublingly "high." This lecture describes the nature and diagnosis of mania and hypomania, and bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 disorder. We consider the startling upswing in bipolar 2 diagnosis in recent years, which leads us once more into controversy in the field.

Lecture 12: The epidemiology of depression

How common is depression? Are men or women more likely to get it? At what age does it generally appear? Is depression becoming more prevalent over time? How expensive is depression relative to other ailments?

Lecture 13: Course wrapup

So that's our course. But let's touch very briefly on some recommendations about managing depression (more about this will come in another course). Above all, we recommend consulting a healthcare professional and learning about depression.

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