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Wednesday 21 May 2014

Online Course Launch: What Is Depression?

Announcing a new PsychologySalon online course: What is Depression?

Here’s a preview:

For the launch we are offering spaces in the course for just $5 for a limited time. This is a discount of 75% off the normal price of $20. The coupon code to use is "launch25" and can be reached via the following link:

This course is designed for the general public, though mental health professionals may also find it useful.

The emphasis is on the diagnosis and the experience of depression and related mood disorders. The causes of depression are not covered, nor are treatment strategies (though there are hints and recommendations throughout). Future courses will emphasize risk factors and treatment strategies more thoroughly.

Why talk so much about diagnosis? 

One of the central problems in mental health has been the shifting line dividing what we think of as normal-range distress from the territory labeled clinical disorder.

Life is difficult. We will all experience declines in mood and, yes, functioning at times in our lives. Mood has become medicalized, however, and it is difficult to experience these periods without wondering whether we are clinically depressed.

In fact, the majority of people referred to Changeways Clinic for mood disorders do not meet diagnostic criteria for any clinical disorder and, as far as we can tell by retrospective interview, never have. Perhaps by learning about the actual definitions of the various mood disorders, many people will be able to reassure themselves that they are distressed, but well.

If you are not clinically depressed, does treatment work? 

That depends on the treatment. Many of the lifestyle-based approaches that therapists advocate have been researched on both clinical and subclinical groups, and seem helpful for both. Exercise, watching your diet, managing your sleep, boosting social contact, and developing an awareness of distortions in thinking – all of these seem helpful whether one is clinically depressed or not.

Most medical treatments have only been researched with people who meet full diagnostic criteria – and there are indications that the milder the symptoms a person has, the less distinguishable medications are from the effects of placebo. Yet the majority of individuals prescribed antidepressant medication in Canada probably do not match the description even of mild major depressive disorder. They are part of a group on which such medications have never really been tested and appear likely to be ineffective.

So it can help to realize what depression really is – and to learn about some of the controversies in the field.

The course provides over 2 hours of content in 12 lectures: 

Lecture 1: Depression versus The Blues. Depression is both a diagnosable condition and a word in common usage. Where is the dividing line – and is depression qualitatively different from what most people experience?

Lecture 2: The Floating Diamond Model. Often called a “mood disorder,” implying that depression affects primarily the emotions, depression actually changes a person’s physical functioning, behaviour, and thought processes as well.

Lecture 3: Major Depressive Episode – Mood-Related Criteria. The diagnostic criteria for major depression are divided into two sets. This lecture considers the two primary mood criteria: sadness and anhedonia.

Lecture 4: Major Depressive Episode – Other Diagnostic Criteria. A consideration of the remaining seven symptoms used in diagnosing major depression.

Lecture 5: Major Depressive Disorder. The diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder depends on the person having had at least one Major Depressive Episode – and meeting a few other rules besides. Plus, we talk about a controversy – can a person with recent bereavement be diagnosed as depressed?

Lecture 6: Additional Symptoms of Depression. The diagnostic list does not cover all aspects of the depressive experience. Here we go back to the Floating Diamond and cover more symptoms people often experience.

Lecture 7: Snowballs and Reverberations. Whether a person is experiencing full depression or only the blues, the symptoms can feed back and make the problem worse – often by making positive action seem less appealing and inactivity more tempting.

Lecture 8: So is there Minor Depression? If clinical depression is called Major Depression, what would Minor Depression be? Is it a real disorder? Here we consider the risks of pathologizing normality – even distressing normality.

Lecture 9: Dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder) What if subclinical depression goes on and on and on? Eventually we might consider it a disorder. A major challenge with dysthymia is that it promotes a lifestyle and pattern of thinking that perpetuate the problem.

Lecture 10: Bipolar Disorder Mood can go problematically “high” as well as low. Here we consider the diagostic criteria for mania, hypomania, and the bipolar disorders.

Lecture 11: The Epidemiology of Depression. Who gets depression? How common is it? What does it cost the culture? Is it becoming more common with time?

Lecture 12: Course Wrapup. This isn’t a treatment or self-care course, but in this final lecture we provide some basic recommendations for self-care.

Coming Soon

We have more courses in the works and hope to launch them shortly. First up: A course for physicians and mental health professionals on the diagnosis of mood disorders. Stay tuned!


  1. I have one suggestion
    how about 1 lecture about what food types causes depression and which foods help to boost dopamine and serotonin to alleviate from depression without medical drugs

  2. Thank you for this. The course is mostly about the experience of depression rather than the causes. We have another course on the causes of depression that will address this issue a bit, plus a course on self-care that will emphasize diet. The focus will be on balanced diet rather than specific effects on specific neurotransmitters, though, given the challenges linking specific neurotransmitter effects to measurable mood outcomes.

  3. That's a really great deal for a course of this type. I think that by offering such a low price, more people will be able to learn from it and have a better understanding of depression.