11 Types of Depression: What You Should Know

There's more than one kind of depression.

Depression can present itself in several ways. It can be mild or severe, and it can be short-lived or chronic. Special circumstances, like the birth of a baby or the changing of the seasons, can trigger depressive symptoms.

Understanding the type of depression a person is experiencing helps healthcare providers determine treatment. And for people who are diagnosed with depression, having information about their specific disorder can be beneficial.

"Folks seem comforted in knowing what's going on for them," said Sarah Noble, DO, a psychiatrist with the Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia. "At least they have an answer for why they're experiencing what they're experiencing." Here's what you should know about the different types of depression.

Major Depressive Disorder

In 2020, approximately 21 million American adults had experienced at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM). Under diagnostic criteria published by the American Psychiatric Association, people must have at least five symptoms persisting for two weeks or longer to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Those symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt
  • Loss of energy, appetite, or interest in enjoyable activities
  • Sleep habit changes
  • Thoughts of death and suicide

Major depressive disorder has two subtypes: "atypical depression" and "melancholic depression." People who fall into the former category tend to sleep and eat a lot. They are emotionally reactive and very anxious, Dr. Noble explained. Those in the latter category have trouble sleeping and tend to ruminate over guilt-ridden thoughts, Dr. Noble added. Young adults tend to present with atypical depression, and the melancholic type is seen more often in older adults.

Most cases are highly treatable and may consist of pharmacological options, therapy, or lifestyle changes per the National Library of Medicine (NLM). However, individuals with major depressive disorder may begin with psychotherapy and medications as their treatment.

Treatment-Resistant Depression

Sometimes people with major depressive disorder don't readily respond to treatment—their depression stubbornly hangs on. "Maybe it's genetic, maybe it's environmental," Dr. Noble said. "Their depression is just tenacious." According to researchers of a January 2020 Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment study, for a person to be diagnosed with treatment-resistant depression, they need to have gone through two unsuccessful pharmacotherapy trials.

Helping people overcome treatment-resistant depression begins with a thorough workup to ensure a proper diagnosis and identify other psychiatric and medical causes of their symptoms. Patients are counseled on proper dosage and duration of treatment. If a medicine isn't working, healthcare providers will try switching to a similar drug or one from a different class. Patients may benefit from adding a second antidepressant from a different class and perhaps another type of medicine, such as an antipsychotic.

Subsyndromal Depression

A person who has depressive symptoms but doesn't quite check all the boxes for a diagnosis of major depression may be deemed "subsyndromal"—have an other specified depressive disorder, as indicated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). For example, the person might have less than five symptoms or experienced depression for less than the two-week minimum.

"Rather than look at symptoms, I usually look at functionality," Dr. Noble added. Is the patient able to go to work and take care of day-to-day responsibilities? If the person is struggling, they may still benefit from treatment, including with medication, Dr. Noble said.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

People with persistent depressive disorder (PDD)—formely known as dysthymia—have "a low, dark, or sad mood on most days" and at least two additional symptoms of depression lasting two years or more per MedlinePlus. In children and teens, PDD may be diagnosed if symptoms of irritability or depression persist for a year or more. "It may wax and wane in intensity, but generally it's a low level of depression," Dr. Noble explained.

To be diagnosed with this type of depression, people must also have two of the following:

  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Usually PDD requires treatment with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Up to 10% of women of childbearing age experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This severe form of PMS can trigger depression, sadness, anxiety, or irritability, as well as other extreme symptoms, in the week before a woman's period.

"It can be really uncomfortable, disabling, and interfere with a woman's day-to-day life," said Dorothy Sit, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Scientists believe these women may have an abnormal sensitivity to hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle. Taking antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), in the two weeks before their period or throughout the month can be very effective, Dr. Sit said. Certain types of contraception and pain relievers may help with symptoms too.

Depression Due to Bipolar Disorder

Wide swings in mood and energy, from elation to hopelessness, are the signatures of depressive episodes in bipolar disorder. To be diagnosed with this form of depression, a person must have experienced at least one bout of mania (a period of time with energetic behavior).

Bipolar disorder usually shows up in young adulthood. While women and men are diagnosed in equal numbers, studies have pointed to possible gender differences: Men appear to have more manic behavior; women tend toward depressive symptoms. Bipolar disorder usually worsens without treatment but can be managed with mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medicines, and talk therapy. The depressive symptoms specifically can be treated with antidepressants, according to the NIMH.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Screaming and temper tantrums can be features of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), a type of depression diagnosed in children who have difficulty regulating their emotions. Other symptoms include an irritable or angry mood most of the day nearly every day and trouble getting along in school, at home, or with their peers.

"These are the kids with strong emotional outbursts," Dr. Noble said. "They're just not able to contain their emotions," so they "act out and act on" their feelings.

According to the NIMH, DMDD is treated using medications, psychotherapy, and parent training on how to effectively deal with a child's irritable behavior.

Postpartum (or Perinatal) Depression

The birth of a baby brings enormous joy but can sometimes lead to postpartum depression (PPD), a type that affects one in four women and one in eight men. In women, postpartum depression is likely triggered by shifts in hormones, fatigue, and other factors. In men, it's environmental, brought on by shifting roles and lifestyle changes that come with parenting.

Postpartum depression can begin any time in the first year following a child's birth, although it usually appears soon after the new arrival. Intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion become overwhelming and can interfere with daily life. It can provoke thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby.

Compared to the "baby blues"—which is a mild, short-lived, and extremely common condition causing anxiety and depressive symptoms in the immediate wake of a baby's birth—PPD usually requires treatment with antidepressants, talk therapy, or both. BetterHelp is one top reviewed online therapy option to help guide new mothers through challenging times and provide treatment options.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, is a recurring type of depression that usually strikes in the fall or winter. Along with a change in mood, individuals with SAD tend to have low energy. They may overeat, oversleep, crave carbs, gain weight, or withdraw from social interaction.

Women, younger adults, and individuals who live in places with shorter daylight hours are at higher risk of developing SAD according to the NIMH. It can also run in families. SAD is diagnosed after at least two years of recurring, seasonal symptoms. While the exact cause is unclear, research has suggested it may be related to an imbalance of the brain chemical, serotonin. An overabundance of the sleep hormone melatonin and insufficient levels of vitamin D may also play a role.

SAD can be treated with a daily dose of light therapy and sometimes medication.

Psychotic Depression

People with psychotic depression have severe depression accompanied by psychosis, which is defined as losing touch with reality. Symptoms of psychosis typically include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't really there) and delusions (false beliefs about what's happening). Additionally, psychotic depression is considered to be another subtype of MDD.

One of Dr. Noble's patients, two years after beginning treatment, confessed that she had a year during which she would not eat anything her father cooked because she thought he was poisoning her. The woman was otherwise lucid; she was just dealing with psychotic depression that had not been fully treated.

Healthcare providers usually prescribe antidepressants and antipsychotic medicines together to treat psychotic depression. However, according to a November 2020 Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics article, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)—a therapy that sends small currents of electricity to the brain while a person is under anesthesia, per the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)—was found to be somewhat effective as well (though more effective in non-community settings).

Depression Due to an Illness

Coping with a serious chronic disease, like heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and HIV/AIDS, can be depressing in and of itself. Researchers of a September 2021 BMC Psychiatry study found that patients who had been diagnosed with chronic diseases were more susceptible to depression.

Disease-related inflammation may also play a role in the onset of depression. Inflammation causes the release of certain chemicals by the immune system that cross into the brain, leading to brain changes that can trigger or worsen depression in certain people, Dr. Noble explained. Antidepressants may help prolong their life and improve their ability to function, Dr. Noble said, and therapy can help many patients cope with mental and physical illnesses.

If you suspect you or a loved one has one of these types of depression, a mental health professional can complete an evaluation to help you figure out a diagnosis and the best course of treatment.

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