Types of Depression (Depressive Disorders), Meaning and Symptoms

Most people think of depression as single mental health condition. There are several different types of depressive disorders that collectively fall under depression. While sadness is a major symptom, there are other symptoms that also occur in depressive disorders. In fact some people who suffer with certain depressive disorders may not experience obvious sadness. Therefore it is important to understand the different types of depression, what each of these disorders mean and some of the common and uncommon symptoms associated with depression.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is the most common type of depression. It is also widely referred to as clinical depression. As with most types of depressive disorders, the effects extend beyond emotional wellbeing. A person’s mental and even physical functioning is affected. There are alterations in the brain chemistry and may be triggered by certain hormonal changes. There is often a strong family history of clinical depression.

Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorders

Apart from sadness which is usually persistent and often unexplained, a person with major depressive disorder may also experience:

  • Sleeplessness and sometimes persistent sleepiness.
  • Difficulty concentrating and problems with decision-making.
  • Loss of interest in various activities that were previously of interest/enjoyable.
  • Feeling restless and agitated or sluggish and slow, both physically and mentally.
  • Changes in appetite, often resulting in changes in body weight.
  • Suicidal behavior, either thoughts of suicide or actions like attempting suicide.

Peristent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder is a condition where depression lasts for 2 years or more. There are two forms of persistent depressive disorder – low-grade persistent depression (dysthymia / dysthymic disorder) or chronic major depression. The symptoms are largely the same as major depressive disorder. Sometimes these symptoms can be mild and may not be noticed as “typical depression” by family and friends.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition where there are episodes of emotional “highs” and “lows”. These “highs” are also referred to as mania where a person may be excitable and energetic. Therefore the term manic depression was also previously used to describe bipolar disorder.

However, the “lows” are the other extreme where there are the same symptoms as clinical depression. Similar to a maor depressive disorder, a person is sad, shows a lack of interest and various other symptoms which are oftenin stark contract to the “highs”.

Read more on bipolar disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is a depressive disorder that occurs with reduced sunlight exposure as a result of seasonal changes. It is therefore more commonly seen in winter, particularly in the northern hemisphere. The condition tends to resolve during summer and spring. The symptoms are largely the same as major depressive disorder and the intensity can vary based on the degree of sunlight exposure.

Read more on seasonal affective disorder.

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic depression, which is also known as major depression with psychotic features, is one of the more serious forms of depressive disorders. There are two forms of psychotic depression known as major depress with mood-congruent psychotic features and major depression with mood-incongruent psychotic features. Some people may experience a combination of both types of psychotic depression.

Symptoms of Psychotic Depression

Apart from the common depression symptoms seen in major depressive disorder (clinical depression), there are three other symptoms that are present which are characteristic of psychotic depression. This includes:

  • Delusions, which are beliefs that are false and irrational.
  • Hallucinations, which are seeing (visual) objects or hearing (auditory) sounds that do not exist.
  • Paranoia, which is incorrectly believing that others mean them harm.

Psychotic depression should not be confused with other mental health conditions like paranoid schizophrenia.

Atypical Depression

As the name suggests, atypical depression does not follow the characteristic pattern seen in most other forms of depression and particularly major depressive disorder. In atypical depression, a person may experience episodes of happiness and other positive emotions temporarily in response to events or occurrences. Atypical depression should be seen as a subtype of major depression.

Symptoms of Atypical Depression

Apart from episodes of positive emotions, which should not be confused with the “highs” of bipolar disorder, there may also be symptoms that are usually not associated with depression. This includes:

  • Sleeping for longer hours.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Oversensitive to criticism.
  • Heaviness in the arms and legs.

Depression with Certain Life Events

All of the other types of depression discussed above may either occur on its own for no clearly identifiable reason or can be triggered or exacerbated with life events like death. However, there are some types of depression that are directly caused by certain life events and may also be associated with normal changes in physiology. This includes depression after giving birth, associated with menstruation or with certain major life events.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression, previously known as postnatal depression, is a depressive disorder that is associated with childbirth. It is also referred to as the baby blues. Postpartum depression (PPD) does not always start immediately after childbirth.

It may sometimes arise weeks after the baby is born. It is important to differentiate between the symptoms of postpartum depression and the physical, mental and emotional strain on the mother when dealing with a newborn. The lack of sleep, fatigue and negative emotional state in early motherhood is not the same as PPD.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a condition when the symptoms of severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) affects daily functioning and relationships. It is important to note that premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is not synonymous with severe PMS.

Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder, which may also sometimes be referred to as situational depression, is depression that arises with a stressful life event. This may include common life events such as death of a loved one, divorce or the loss of a job. Understandably this can give rise to depression and anxiety during and persist shortly after the event.

However, in adjustment disorder, there is a difficulty in adjusting to these life events or changes. It typically starts within the first 3 months following the event and usually does not last beyond 6 months. Adjustment disorder may overlap with conditions like complicated grief.

Read more on complicated grief.


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