Depression can visit us in a variety of forms
Depression doesn’t come in just one form. Although all types of depression share the characteristics of low mood, lack of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, and feelings of hopelessness or emotional numbness, people with different variants of this condition may see significant differences between their symptoms.
Here are the identifying characteristics of seven common types of depression.
1. Major depression
Major depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is what most people think of when they hear the word “depression.” This is one of the most common types of depression; approximately 7 percent of adults in the United States suffer from some degree of MDD at any given time.
Major depression involves a loss of enjoyment in activities, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, trouble sleeping, weight loss or gain, difficulty concentrating, and in severe cases, thoughts of suicide.
Some people may display some symptoms but not others, and different symptoms may be more pronounced in different sufferers.
To be diagnosed with major depression, you must have had symptoms almost every day for at least two weeks. Major depression is usually treated with antidepressants, talk therapy, or both.
Dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder, is depression that lasts for two years or longer. The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of major depression, but they tend to be milder. People with dysthymia may suffer from low mood most of the time, feel chronically fatigued, have problems with sleep and appetite, or have poor self-esteem.
Dysthymia often starts early in life. Because of this, many people don’t realize they have it and don’t seek treatment. However, dysthymia usually responds well to talk therapy and antidepressants. If left untreated, dysthymia can develop into major depressive disorder.
3. Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression caused by lack of natural sunlight in the fall and winter months. People who live at higher latitudes are more likely to develop SAD than those who live closer to the equator.
Symptoms of SAD mirror those of major depression and include sadness, lethargy or fatigue, feelings of irritability, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, and changes in weight.
Seasonal affective disorder usually begins in the fall months and eases naturally in the spring months. During the winter, particularly around the holidays when people are gift buying, folks with SAD often seek out light therapy, which involves sitting in front of a light box that mimics sunlight for 30 minutes a day. For about half of sufferers, light therapy is ineffective. In these cases, talk therapy and medications may bring some relief.
4. Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, involves alternating periods of high mood (mania) and depression. During manic phases, people with bipolar disorder may experience excitability, high energy, racing mind, and a strong desire to engage in risky behavior.
Someone having a manic phase might feel that they can’t stop talking or don’t need to sleep. They may act without thinking, sometimes putting themselves or others in danger.
Eventually, a manic phase swings back to a depressive phase. The depressive phase of bipolar disorder resembles major depression, with symptoms like loss of desire to participate in activities, lethargy, weight changes, and feelings of hopelessness.
The time it takes to cycle between mania and depression varies from person to person. Some people cycle between the two in a matter of weeks. Others can spend three to six months in a manic or depressive state. Bipolar disorder is usually treated with mood stabilizers.
5 Postpartum depression
It’s estimated that up to 15 percent of women develop postpartum depression after giving birth. This form of depression can result from a complex combination of factors, including the emotional effects of having a newborn and the hormonal changes that occur after childbirth.
Postpartum depression can cause symptoms such as severe anxiety, feelings of inadequacy or being out of control, mood swings, crying, or feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
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Postpartum depression can diminish a new mother’s capacity for bonding with her baby, so it’s essential to seek treatment as soon as possible. Psychotherapy and antidepressants can help relieve postpartum depression.
6. Atypical depression
Atypical depression is considered a sub-category of major depressive disorder. While those with atypical depression usually experience the symptoms of MDD, they can also experience an improvement in mood after positive experiences, something that does not usually happen for people with “typical” MDD.
Atypical depression often causes physical symptoms like a feeling of heaviness in the limbs, headaches, or changes in weight. Psychotherapy and medication are both used for treating atypical depression.
7. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is similar to PMS, but its symptoms are more severe and debilitating. Like PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder affects women during the second half of their menstrual cycle.
This condition can cause symptoms that are similar to those of major depression. Sufferers may experience low mood or mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, irritability, and anxiety.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder can be severe enough to affect a woman’s relationships and ability to keep a job. This condition can be treated with antidepressants, talk therapy, or hormonal contraceptives.
Any type of depression can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to carry out their day-to-day responsibilities. If you think you or a loved one might have some form of depression, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your medical doctor or therapist.
Depression rarely goes away by itself, but it is treatable. Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two can usually treat depression successfully. Also, regular exercise, including different forms of strength training, have been found helpful in ameliorating the symptoms of depression.