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Types of Depression: The Most Common Disorders

Depression can be a debilitating experience. 

While we all feel blue from time to time, depression is more than sadness. It’s like a thick fog that disrupts your thinking, feeling and behavior, and warps your perception of yourself and the world around you.

Statistically-speaking, depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 16 million American adults every year are affected by some form of depression.

Caused by a variety of factors, depression can sometimes emerge from a mix of issues or experiences, but sometimes there’s no obvious catalyst. If left untreated, severe depression can lead to suicide.

Below we’ve gone into some of the most common types and what to look out for.

We’ve also explained what you can do if you’re feeling depressed, where to find help and how to get mental health treatment.

Types of Depression

Major Depression

This is the most well-known type of depression and the one most people refer to when they say “clinical depression.” 

It’s characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety or emptiness that can severely disrupt one’s daily life.

Common symptoms include deep feelings of hopelessness, irritability, lack of energy, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, frequent crying, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies or pleasurable activities, withdrawal from social interaction and thoughts of death or suicide.

In order to receive a diagnosis of depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

We’ve gone into more detail on the symptoms of major depression in our guide to depression symptoms.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent Depressive Disorder (or dysthymia) is sometimes referred to as chronic depression. While the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are less severe, they typically last much longer, for at least two years.

In addition to depressed or irritable mood, this type of depression is characterized by at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of energy/fatigue
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration/decision making
In order to be diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder, a person can’t be symptom-free for more than two months.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is characterized by mood changes that begin and end with the seasons, with symptoms typically lasting four to five months. 

In most cases, SAD symptoms begin in the late fall or early winter months when there’s less natural light. 

Although less common, in some cases SAD symptoms can begin in the spring or summer months.

According to the National Institute Of Mental Health, the symptoms of this depression type are similar to major depression, with some specifics for winter-pattern and summer-pattern SAD.

Symptoms for winter-pattern SAD may include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Change in appetite, usually eating more and craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep, usually sleeping more
  • Weight gain

Summer-pattern SAD symptoms may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Violent behavior
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping less

To be diagnosed with SAD, depressive symptoms must occur during specific seasons for at least two consecutive years.

Along with psychotherapy and antidepressant medication, studies have shown bright light therapy as an effective treatment for SAD.

Formerly known as “manic depression,” bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by extremely sad moods, known as depressive episodes, that usually follow an episode of mania, a period of extremely elevated, irritable or energized behavior. 

Manic symptoms can be so severe that they sometimes require medical attention.

While not technically a form of depression, these depressive episodes have many of the same symptoms of major depression.

Bipolar disorder has three sub-types:

  • Bipolar I. This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes lasting at least seven days along with depressive episodes typically lasting at least two weeks.
  • Bipolar II. Similar to bipolar I with depressive episodes and less severe manic episodes known as hypomania.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder. Characterized by hypomanic episodes and depressive symptoms lasting at least two years that don’t meet the criteria for bipolar or major depression.

Along with therapy and antidepressant medications, bipolar disorder is typically treated with another class of medications called mood stabilizers as well.

Psychotic Depression

As its name suggests, psychotic depression is a severe form of depression characterized by a depressed mood accompanied by episodes of psychosis such as delusions or hallucinations. 

These are fixed, false beliefs that conflict with reality or seeing or hearing things that others cannot see or hear. Psychotic symptoms can often have a depressive theme to them. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the best treatment for this depression type involves the combination of an antidepressant and antipsychotic medication or brain stimulation therapies like electroconvulsive therapy.

Atypical Depression

People with atypical depression experience many of the same symptoms of major depression, but with one key difference: their mood is able to improve in response to positive events.

In addition, atypical depression typically comes with two or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sleep
  • Heaviness in the arms or legs
  • Intense sensitivity to rejection

Those with atypical depression may respond better to a subset of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

Treating Depression

While many of the symptoms can feel overwhelming, the good news is, all forms of depression are highly treatable.

Many clinically-proven depression treatment options can make a major difference in your health and wellbeing. 

You may also be able to see improvements in your symptoms by making adjustments to your habits and lifestyle.

If you’ve noticed one or several of the symptoms above, it’s important to reach out for help. 

Connection is key. If you have a trusted friend or family member, consider getting in touch with them for support or assistance. 

You can say something like, “I’m having a tough time lately, do you have some time to talk?”

Psychotherapy is another option that’s been clinically-proven to be an effective treatment for depression. 

A good therapist can offer you guidance and support to help change some of the long-standing patterns and habits that may underlie depression. 

There are many different types out there including cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis and interpersonal therapy.

You can learn more in our guide to the different types of therapy and how they work.

In addition to therapy, there are many types of antidepressant medications available to help manage symptoms. 

These work by changing the levels of certain chemicals in your brain, called neurotransmitters, that help regulate how you think, feel and function. You can learn more about how modern antidepressant medicines work in our full list of antidepressants.

Getting Help For Depression

While depression symptoms can be debilitating, there is help available.

And seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually badass.

The first step is to educate yourself, which you’re already doing by reading this article.

If you’re concerned you’re depressed, it's important to speak to a mental health professional to get an accurate diagnosis. 

Sometimes, you can see comorbid depression along with other medical conditions and physical illnesses. 

If these symptoms are interfering with your everyday life or usual activities, that's a good sign to reach out for help.

If you have a trusted friend or family member you can talk to, consider connecting with them for support. Anonymous online support groups are another option, too.

If your symptoms are more severe, you can access online psychiatry for personalized advice and treatment.

Most importantly, don’t wait. The sooner you access support, the better equipped you’ll be to treat your depression and get back to feeling like yourself again.

Remember, healing is possible.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.