Types of Depression

People often feel sad, blue, or ‘depressed’ from time to time.  These feelings are usually short lived, and do not interfere with daily life.  Major Depressive Disorder, on the other hand, is a serious medical condition that affects the mind and body impacting more than 350 million people around the world.  It is an illness in the same way that diabetes, heart disease and cancer are and is not, as many people believe, a bad attitude or ‘all in the head’.

The primary difference between feeling sad, and Major Depressive Disorder, is time and duration.  If persistent and sad feeling last longer than two weeks, start to interfere with daily life, and are negatively impacting relationships, it may be Major Depressive Disorder and time to talk to a doctor.

One in five people will suffer from depression during their lifetime, and it is the leading cause of disability worldwide.  The good news is that depression is treatable.  While we have a long way to go in understanding the brain, there are effective therapies and we are learning more and more every day to provide effective treatment to those in need.

Types of Depression / Symptoms

Major Depression (Also known as Major Depressive Disorder, Chronic Major Depression or Unipolar Depression)

Major Depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interferes with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. A Major Depressive episode may occur only once; but more commonly, several episodes may occur in a lifetime. Chronic Major Depression may require a person to continue treatment and monitor lifestyle habits on an ongoing basis.

Symptoms of Major Depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability, and/or angry outbursts
  • Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain, which do not respond to routine treatment


A less severe type of depression, dysthymia (or dysthymic disorder), involves long-lasting symptoms that do not seriously disable, but keep one from functioning well or feeling good.

Symptoms of Dysthymia

  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Decreased energy, fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness


Another type of depressive illness is bipolar disorder (in the past described as manic-depressive illness). Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes: severe highs (mania) and lows (depression), often with periods of normal mood in between. Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but usually they are gradual. When in the depressed cycle, an individual can have any or all of the symptoms of depression. When in the manic cycle, the individual may be overactive, over-talkative, and have a great deal of energy.

Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems. For example, the individual in a manic phase may feel elated, full of grand schemes that might range from unwise business decisions to romantic sprees and unsafe sex. Mania, left untreated, may worsen to a psychotic state.

Symptoms of Mania

  • Abnormal or excessive elation
  • Unusual irritability
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Grandiose notions
  • Increased talking
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Markedly increased energy
  • Poor judgment
  • Inappropriate social behavior

Persistent Depressive Disorder

A depression that lasts over 2 years, involving symptoms that come and go in severity.  The key is that the symptoms must be present at least two years

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

A depression starting in the winter months, usually stemming from low natural sunlight and often lifting in the summer months.  Sad may be effectively treated with light therapy (Full Spectrum Lighting), but about half do not respond to treatment and benefit from a combination of therapy and medication.

Psychotic Depression

A severe depression where the person has some form of psychosis along with other symptoms.  This psychosis can include having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).

Postpartum Depression

This depression occurs right after giving birth.  It is much more than the “baby blues” that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It seriously interferes with the woman’s daily activities.  It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.

Substance use disorders (abuse or dependence) also frequently co-occur with depressive disorders. Research has revealed that people with alcoholism are almost twice as likely as those without alcoholism to also suffer from major depression. In addition, more than half of people with bipolar disorder type I (with severe mania) have a co-occurring substance use disorder.

Men are more likely than women to report alcohol and drug abuse or dependence in their lifetime; however, there is debate among researchers as to whether substance use is a “symptom” of underlying depression, or a co-occurring condition that more commonly develops in men. Nevertheless, a substance use can mask depression, making it harder to recognize depression as a separate illness that needs treatment.



National Institute of Mental Health

World Health Organization