Types of Depression

See also: Treatments for Depression.

Depression can happen to many different people and for many different reasons – the nature of it is explained on our page What is Depression?

Depression is categorised in different ways by different health organisations around the world, and there is often considerable overlap between some of the categories. This means that if you are trying to identify the type of depression you, or somebody you know, may be suffering from then it may not be quite as straightforward as just identifying one type of depression from the list on this page.

Although depression can strike in different ways and for different reasons, the resulting experiences may be similar and there may be more than one cause in the same person.

This page attempts to categorise depression first according to its severity and then according to some particular reasons for it.


Depression Categorised by Severity

Major, Severe or Clinical Depression

Everybody has bad days: days when they feel low, in a bad mood and reluctant to face the world, and days when they feel depressed. However, major depression is more than this, can last for weeks or months, and is a serious but treatable illness.

Major depression is a huge problem internationally, and especially in the Western world.


According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the US, about 7% of the adult population suffer from major depression at any given time.

In the UK, figures show that 25% of people will experience a mental health problem each year and that a significant proportion of these problems are depression and anxiety related.

Typical symptoms of major depression may include:

  • Extreme sadness and/or feelings of guilt. Such 'melancholic' feelings are often more severe in the morning.
  • The loss of pleasure in normal activities. This can include sufferers becoming 'catatonic', where they withdraw from those around them cutting off ties with friends and family.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions, which can adversely affect work and/or studies.
  • Tirednessor fatigue, as well as a loss of energy.
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia, an inability to 'turn off', and disturbed sleep patterns.
  • Low self-esteem which can sometimes lead to repeated thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide.

Major depression is often triggered by high levels of stress such as problems in the sufferers personal or professional life (loss of partner, loss of a job), illness, or abuse of any type including physical, sexual and substance.

See our page 'What is Stress?' for more information and a list of the most stressful life events and situations.


Dysthymia

Dysthymia or chronic depression causes the sufferer to experience a low mood over a long period of time, possibly many years. Depressed feelings may not be constant over this time and periods of normal mood can last for weeks or even months.

Dysthymia is less severe than major depression although the symptoms are often very similar and can include: sadness, low self-esteem, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue and problems with sleep habits and/or appetite. Generally sufferers are able to continue to function well enough to hold down a job and social relationships.

Dysthymia can be caused by unresolved problems. 'Bottling up' issues over long periods of time can lead to feelings of general dissatisfaction and depression.


Atypical Depression

Atypical depression is often characterised by a sense of heaviness in the limbs. Sufferers can sometimes experience short bursts of happiness so they may not appear quite as 'distant' or 'cut-off' as major depression sufferers.

Symptoms of atypical depression can include tiredness or fatigue, oversleeping, overeating and weight gain.

Atypical depression is associated with external forces and the behaviours of others. The mood of a sufferer can improve in times of success, or when they receive positive attention and praise. This distinguishes atypical depression from major depression when positive events have little or no effect on the sufferer.

Atypical depression is generally less serious than major depression and people can live with it for many years, or even throughout their entire lives.


Specific Kinds of Depression

The list above covers the main types of general depression, however there are numerous forms of more specific depression types - which may occur during certain times in life or while dealing with life circumstances and events.

Situational Depression

Also called adjustment disorder or 'stress response syndrome,' situational depression is triggered by a stressful or life-changing event, such as job loss, the death of a loved one, trauma, or the end of a relationship. It is about three times more common than major depression, usually less severe, and may clear up over time without help once the event has ended or the person has adapted to their new conditions.

Situational depression is not the same as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which usually occurs as a reaction to a life-threatening event and tends to be longer lasting. Adjustment disorders, on the other hand, are short-term and rarely last longer than six months.


Postnatal/ Postpartum Depression (PND)

Around 10-15% of women are estimated to experience postnatal depression.

Postnatal depression usually develops within the first month after childbirth, but can start several months or even up to one year after the birth, and can even start during pregnancy.

Many women worry about getting help for postnatal depression – they feel that their depression is irrational and that they should be delighted with their new baby – and many don't realise that the illness can develop quite a long time after the birth.

As PND is quite common help is available and treatments are usually very successful. It is important to remember that suffering from postnatal depression in no way reflects a lack of mothering skills or love for the baby.

Postnatal depression (PND) is not to be confused with the ‘baby blues’ which commonly occurs between the 3rd and the 10th day after the birth and includes being weepy, irritable, anxious and generally feeling low.

Small babies are extremely demanding and the baby blues are very common, and many mothers may experience at least some of the symptoms of PND during this time.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

This is depression that occurs at the same time every year. It is thought to be mostly biological rather than psychological in origin, although it is mostly treated with psychological treatments and light therapy (see our page:Treatments for Depression).

SAD can be related to the summer or winter months, each with their own symptoms. Autumn and winter symptoms include hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, oversleeping, overeating, and difficulty thinking and concentrating. In the summer, it is somewhat different, with more irritable characteristics coming out like anxiety, agitation, trouble sleeping and lack of appetite.


Psychotic Depression

People who develop and suffer from psychotic depression experience delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing things that aren't really there).

Sufferers are often aware that their thoughts aren't accurate and can feel very embarrassed and upset by them, which, in turn, makes the condition worse.

Psychotic depression is usually treated in a hospital setting.


Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar can be defined as an emotional disorder characterised by moods swings from depression to mania, often quite rapidly.

Bipolar used to be called manic depression. Bipolar disorder is very serious and can cause risky behaviour, even suicidal tendencies.

According to the NHS, about one person in every 100 in the UK is diagnosed with a bipolar disorder.

There are different types of bipolar disorder, including type 1, type 2, rapid-cycling, and hypomanic bipolar disorders. Cyclothymia is a mild form.


Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

This is a type of depression that affects women during the second half of their menstrual cycles.

Symptoms often include depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Not to be confused with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which affects up to 85% of women and has milder symptoms, PMDD affects about 5% of women and is much more severe. PMDD most commonly effects in women in their late-30s to mid-40s.

The symptoms of PMDD are similar to those in major depression with the most common being irritability, plus breast pain and bloating. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder sufferers have an increased risk of suicidal feelings.

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