What Are The 5 Types Of Depression And How Can You Determine Which You Have?

By Sarah Fader

Updated December 06, 2018

When a person says, "I've been feeling depressed," there is no way to gauge the severity of the depression-especially if we are on the outside looking in, as friends and family. Even if you have been feeling depressed lately, you may be unsure whether you're suffering from seasonal depression (many seem to get depressed in winter or summer), or from a family or employment-related situation, or a so-called "chemical imbalance" that makes a person feel blue, even if things are going well. There are clinical assessments that can do this, and the best way to determine if someone is depressed is for that person to see a licensed therapist.

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Unfortunately, communication between the depressed person and the "confidant" he/she tells, can be unclear. Misunderstandings can result, such as a mildly depressed person being accused of being clinically depressed, an accusation that could seriously affect that person's job or family life. Even more problematic, a person who feels depressed to the point of suicide may tell someone problem, only to be reassured that "Everyone feels that way." This is extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening to that person. If someone tells you that they are suicidal, there are resources that this person can contact such as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 and https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

What we see is the need for greater education for both depressed subjects and concerned family and friends. Depression is an extremely misunderstood mental health issue. There are varying degrees of depression, and they need to be assessed according to the level of severity.

Think About "Symptoms," Not "Yes or No"

It's important to grow out of the box of "depressed or not" or even "a little depressed" or "frequently depressed." There are a few types of depressive disorder and learning the differences can help in diagnosis later on.

According to Harvard Medical School, "mood changes that last over a few weeks" is a significant timeline to start a diagnosis.

What the doctor or counselor needs to know, however, is whether the depression symptoms are indicative of one of these different types of depression:

  • Major Depression
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder

Women can also suffer from unique types of depression such as:

  • Perinatal depression
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD, a severe form of PMS)

These particular depression types are believed to be hormone related, and come from a biological source, unlike other depressions that are seemingly brought on by circumstances.

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WebMD states that in addition to life changes, chemical changes in the brain can also influence one's mood. This is not necessarily an "imbalance" though since it's hard to define what a person's "natural" state of mind is, as regards neurotransmitters and other chemicals. There is so much that we don't know about how the brain works, though doctors and scientists are working hard to find new developments on how our brain functions. This will help us make advancements in the treatments of psychological disorders and mental health issues thus improving our quality of life.

There is a specific set of symptoms associated with the five major depression types.

Depression Types 1

The most common form of depression was once known as "dysthymia" and refers to a persistent depressive disorder. This type of depression is characterized by a lengthy period of two years or longer. Dysthymia was historically used for low-grade depression, while chronic major depression indicated a more severe problem. Recently, however, the persistent depressive disorder has been used to refer to both types of depression, dysthymia, and chronic major depression.

The belief is that this "persistent" depression lasts because of changes in neurotransmitters; however, these changes happen for mostly external reasons. Usually, that means biological conditions (such as hypothyroidism, stroke or multiple sclerosis) or certain medications. However, as Healthline states, this persistent form of depression can also be caused by psychological stress and major life changes.

The key symptoms associated with this depression are:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Problems with sleep
  • Low energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Symptoms of ADHD
  • Hopelessness

Depression Types 2

Bipolar disorder involves manic depression, which sees not only low depressive moods, which are comparable to major depression, but also high-energy "up" moods in which the subject feels unusually productive, creative or eager to try new hobbies or ambitions.

The MayoClinic states that symptoms of bipolar disorder are similar to major depression or persistent depressive disorder, except that they are more complex since there are fluctuations. Mania involves episodes:

Unusual agitation or high activity

An almost euphoric sense of well-being or spikes of confidence.

Erratic sleep

"Talky" episodes and racing thoughts

ADHD symptoms

Poor/impulsive decision-making ability

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The major depressive episode includes:

  • Hopelessness, emptiness or trigger-less crying fits
  • Emotional numbness
  • Weight changes for no reason
  • Sleeping problems
  • Restlessness or loss of energy
  • Feelings of self-loathing and guilt but without just cause
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Most people assume that if a person lacks constant and severe mood fluctuations, they can't be bipolar, but hypomania refers to a less severe set of bipolar symptoms. Bipolar I is the "manic-depressive" categorization (one manic episode preceded or followed by hypomania or major depression, with the possibility of psychosis), whereas Bipolar II is absent of the mania/psychosis stage.

There is also a Cyclothymic disorder, which refers to bipolar symptoms that last for longer cycles, as much as two years or more. The first set of symptoms typically hits in the teens or twenties.

Depression Types 3

The seasonal affective disorder is caused by the season change and becomes predictable, whether the subject is "allergic" to winter, or summer, though most patients thrive in spring and summer and then get depressed in late fall and winter.

Depression Types 4

There are "other" types of depression, though these are also attributed to external factors, or sometimes even physical factors, such as "situational depression." These episodes are directly brought upon by family events, and may actually be short-lived, unlike persistent depressive disorder, which can last years.

Depression Types 5

Atypical Depression was once considered a separate disorder, but recent changes now categorize "atypical symptoms" with a major depressive episode. The depression is largely the same except that people's moods can be influenced by positive events-atypical of the depressed mind.

These atypical depressive symptoms may be caused by genetics, PTSD, drug abuse, or another disease/condition.

What Type of Depression Do I Have and What Can be Done?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depressed persons should see a doctor or counselor to receive an official diagnosis. The reason is that between so many different people and walks of life "experiences the same depression symptoms."

For example, men have been observed to show more introverted symptoms of irritability, fatigue, and emotional numbness, as well as trouble sleeping. Men are also more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol, which leads to reckless behavior. Substance abuse can be a sign that someone (men in particular it seems) is suffering from underlying depression. This needs to be addressed by a mental health professional.

When you ask, "what types of depression do I have?" when you're speaking to a qualified professional, you might take a test or answer a series of questions. A doctor visit is highly recommended since he/she can test you for physical problems that could lead to depressive symptoms. The types of depression test questions usually include a timeline of when you noticed symptoms or feelings developing and any lifestyle changes that occurred around this time.

Do Types of Therapy for Depression Really Work?

Statistically, according to the National Health Institute and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 80 percent of subjects showed an improvement with a combination of medication therapy, psychotherapy and support group help. The biggest challenge has been motivating people to come forward and get help, along with a recurring problem with making patients comply with medical treatment as directed. About 50 percent of all unsuccessful cases could be attributed to the patient's decision to stop taking the medication. It's important to discuss your medication plan with a licensed provider such as a psychiatrist, MD or psychiatric RN.

The healthcare professional's diagnosis is particularly important since even among various types of therapies for depression, there are differences in psychotherapy approaches, as well as medication types.

Psychotherapy may involve:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches subjects how to change their negative thinking and more positively react to daily circumstances
  • Interpersonal therapy, which helps explain to the subject the destructive behavior that is making the depression worse
  • Problem-solving therapy, which helps teach subjects coping mechanisms

Medication therapy could include:

  • Anti-depressants, which directly affect chemicals in the brain, including SSRIs, SNRIs, TCAs and MAOIs, all medications that change various brain chemicals
  • Tranquilizers for anxiety and controlling high/low moods
  • Herbal medications that promote better health and possibly the alleviation of symptoms

While many people think that self-medicating can control their depression, as in substance abuse or over-working, this is usually the beginning of a downward spiral. Trying to treat a growing problem with temporary distractions like drugs or alcohol, or spending more hours at work to avoid family and friends, are examples of ways of avoiding depression.

The only way to stop the depression before it gets out of control is to identify the types of depression you suffer from and then take the steps towards managing of these symptoms. There is no cure for major depression, but symptoms can be alleviated, especially if they point to one particular type of depression. On the other hand, sometimes making life changes, in regards to diet and exercise, or reducing stress, cutting off toxic relationships and going to therapy can have major affects without the need for any aggressive treatment.

You can get started today. Talk to one of our licensed counselors online and find out if your depressive symptoms match the clinical criteria. You may be surprised at how treatable the condition is and how much better life can be when you make positive changes.

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