Depression is actually an umbrella term that encompasses many different forms of this emotional disorder. All of them share certain characteristics, but they affect each sufferer’s life differently. Understanding the different types of depression can help you find the help you need.

Major Depression

Often referred to as clinical depression or major depression,unipolar depression is what most of us think of when we hear the term “depression.” Whatever term is used, major depression is characterized by marked long-term periods of severe depression symptoms. What are those symptoms?

  • Changes in appetite that results in noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Lack of energy or a feeling of chronic fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Complete loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • A feeling like all the pleasure has gone out of life
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Noticeable slowing down of motor skills or speech
  • Loss of sex drive

An episode of major depression will cause a noticeable change. If you usually love to spend time with friends and you suddenly experience a prolonged feeling of sadness or hopelessness that makes you want to pull the covers over your head and avoid all social situations, it’s most likely a major depressive episode. If you’re usually an active person who enjoys vigorous physical activity and you find yourself sitting in front of the television, unable to move, it could be major depression. When you feel like this for more than a few days, it’s not just a “blue mood”—it’s major depression.


Some people go into major depressive episodes every once in a while. Others might experience mild depressive symptoms most of the time. A major depressive episode lasts a few weeks or months. Dysthymia is the chronic presence of mild to moderate depression symptoms for a period of 2 years or more. Literally, you just feel “kinda down” all the time. During that period of time, you might slip into major depressive episodes as well. If you feel hopeless, helpless, sad or a low level of energy most of the time, and you believe that life is “just this way,” you might be dealing with dysthymia.

Bipolar Depression

Bipolar depression, previously known as manic depression, is marked by mood swings. Those with bipolar depression experience periods of mania for anywhere from hours to months followed by periods of major depression. Mania is characterized by a noticeable up-swing in mood. It’s not just feeling good; it’s a feeling of elation, excitement, and extreme energy. Symptoms of mania include:

  • Grandiose thinking and inflated sense of self-esteem; a belief that you’re invincible
  • Noticeably decreased need for sleep
  • Extreme talkativeness and very fast speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Noticeable increase in physical activity, inability to sit still, and heightened need to set goals and take action
  • Impulsivity
  • Thrill seeking marked by reckless sexual behavior, overspending, or irrational or dangerous schemes without thought to consequences

Manic periods can last for a few hours, days, weeks or months, and they tend to have a very destructive effect on your life. Bipolar can be experienced to different degrees; Bipolar II involves hypomanias, which are periods of mild mania. If you’re experiencing a hypomania, you’ll still have many of the symptoms of mania, simply to a lesser degree.

After a period of mania or hypomania comes a period of major depression. Those with bipolar often make lots of plans and engage in frantic activity working toward their goals just to see everything fall apart at the last minute when depression hits. These highs and lows continue to cycle, making it very difficult to live a productive and stable life.

Atypical Depression

Atypical depression is most common in women. Chronic overeating, oversleeping, panic attacks and emotional hypersensitivity characterize atypical depression. While atypical depression might not be as severe as major depression, it can still cause problems and seriously disrupt your ability to lead a happy life. As with any other form of depression, though, there is treatment available.

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic depression is an extremely severe form of depression during which the depressed person will hear voices, have visions, see things that aren’t there, and experience delusional thinking. This is more common than you might think; approximately 15% of those with depression show signs of psychosis as well. If you or someone you know is suffering with possible psychotic symptoms, it’s important to seek help immediately.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a regular cycle of depression that is tied to the seasons. If you experience major depressive episodes during a specific time of year (usually winter) but you feel fine the rest of the time, you’re most likely dealing with SAD. It is believed that this form of depression is tied to light sensitivity. During the winter, the period of daylight decreases, and this might cause a shift in the body’s hormones that leads to fatigue, increased need for sleep, and a marked increase in appetite.

Because there are so many different types of depression, it’s important to discuss your symptoms and the circumstances under which you experience them in as much detail as possible with your doctor. The type of depression that you’re experiencing will determine the type of treatment you receive. Above all, remember: there is no need to continue living with depression. Whatever type of depression you’re experiencing, there is help available.

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