What is Depression NOS?

By Robert Porter|Updated October 4, 2022

Feeling depressed is a common form of mental illness and is not something to be ashamed of. Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions — millions of people are diagnosed with depression each year. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that over 300 million children and adults live with depression.

In the past, you might have heard of the term “depression NOS,” a diagnosis not widely discussed outside of the professional medical community. But what does NOS mean?

Could A Depressive Disorder Be Affecting Your Life?

To put it simply, depression NOS refers to a type of disorder with depressive features, but that does not meet the full criteria for common depressive disorders. In the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, NOS was used as an abbreviation of the phrase “not otherwise specified.” Sometimes, a doctor may determine that there isn’t enough data to diagnose someone with a specific mental health challenge. In those cases, they historically used the NOS designation when a patient was experiencing symptoms difficult to diagnose. The term NOS essentially categorized people experiencing types of depression that don’t fit into typical depression categories.

The Term NOS Is No Longer Used

In more recent versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, however, the term depression NOS has been medically reviewed. It was seen as being too general and instead replaced by two different terms to help with diagnosis: “depression other specified” and “depression unspecified.”

Either of these newer terms can be used to help diagnose a patient. For example, a doctor might use the “other specified” tag when a patient shows some symptoms of a type of depression but doesn’t check enough boxes, so to speak, to be diagnosed with a specific depressive disorder. This designation showcases that a patient is experiencing a depressive disorder but doesn’t neatly fit into an existing depression category.

Doctors may use “unspecified” when they don’t have enough information to make a full diagnosis. This can be useful in an emergency when a doctor has to act quickly. Using the unspecified label can allow the doctor to administer a treatment right away without going through the usual tests to gather information necessary for a full patient diagnosis.

What Does This Mean For Patients?

From a patient’s perspective, these designations might be confusing, and you may wonder why diagnosis categorization is important. These categories help doctors be as specific as possible about your condition and symptoms so they can provide you with the best primary care.

Going to your doctor to discuss your health is essential, and all forms of depression should be taken seriously. Your doctor will examine your symptoms and use their expertise to develop the best possible treatment plan. At your appointment, tell your doctor how you feel and describe the symptoms you have been experiencing.

If your doctor determines you live with a non-traditional form of depression, keep in mind that this diagnosis does not mean that you will have trouble seeking treatment. The article says that because each depression diagnosis is unique, your personal road to recovery may be fluid. Remember to allow yourself time to come to terms with your diagnosis and treat yourself with compassion and kindness.

Treatments For Non-Traditional Forms Of Depression

There are many highly effective forms of treatment for depression. In large part, treatments for those living with “other specified” and “unspecified” depressive disorders are similar to treatment for those experiencing traditional forms of depression. Here are the common ways to improve depression symptoms or escape any depressed mood.

Your doctor will evaluate your medical history and symptoms and consider whether antidepressant medications are appropriate. This type of medication is a crucial part of treating depression for many people, but always remember to consult with your doctor or primary care physician before considering medication.

Treatment can come in many different packages. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthy eating habits, or establishing a strong support system to make it easier to cope with depression symptoms. For some people, exercising is a natural way to release positive endorphins in the body and go a long way to improve your mood. Remember that the goal is to set aside time for physical fitness every day; the goal is to move your body until you sweat.

Making certain changes to your diet can help to improve your mood too. Research from Harvard Medical School shows that diet is intimately tied to our emotional wellbeing. The study shows that “a dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression.” In contrast, a diet full of processed meat, high-fat dairy products, and few fruits or vegetables increased the risk of depression. The Mediterranean Diet and low carbohydrate diets have been linked to improved mental health.

Lifestyles free of alcohol or drug consumption also help promote emotional balance and can help you treat your depression symptoms. Alcohol and other substance use may also be used to mask or cope with depression symptoms. Abstaining from them can also help out with other mood disorders like bipolar disorder.

Another common lifestyle change includes surrounding yourself with a supportive network. Depression has the potential to make you feel isolated and disconnected from other people. Still, the social support of family and friends can play a large part in combating depression symptoms.

If you do not have close family or friends to confide in, consider a support group. Support groups are typically comprised of others also living with depression. You’ll find that many other people are experiencing similar struggles every single day. Support groups have the added benefit of building a sense of community or belonging and have been shown to treat depression or bipolar disorder depression symptoms effectively. For example, this study found that in some cases, peer support resulted in “greater improvement in depression symptoms than usual care and may have similar efficacy to group cognitive-behavioral therapy.” Finding the people—such as family and friends—who make you feel loved and supported can go a long way.

Online Therapy Is One Convenient Option

Could A Depressive Disorder Be Affecting Your Life?

From medication to lifestyle changes, depression is highly treatable, and many people also benefit from talking to a counselor. It’s also possible that your doctor might recommend therapy. Therapy is a popular and effective treatment for depression that helps people cope with their symptoms and build lasting coping strategies. A therapist can work with a patient to help them address the root causes of their depression while developing techniques for alleviating depression symptoms over the near and long term.

Studies show that the overwhelming majority of people with depression benefit from psychotherapy, and new research suggests that online therapy is more effective than traditional methods. For example, an analysis found that electronically delivered cognitive behavioral therapy reduced depression symptom severity more effectively than face-to-face therapy. The analysis considered 17 randomized controlled study trials, “evaluating the clinical effectiveness of eCBT compared to face-to-face and considered a wide range of outcomes including the severity of symptoms, adverse outcomes, clinically relevant outcomes, global functionality, participant satisfaction, quality of life, and affordability.”

Beyond effectiveness, flexibility is one of many reasons why people are starting to flock to online therapy. Online therapy through BetterHelp is incredibly convenient; this was even affirmed in a medically reviewed article discussing the best picks for online therapy. You’ll be able to contact a therapist at times when most therapy offices would be closed, meaning you won’t have to take off work to make an appointment. This flexibility extends into the structure of your therapy session too. From video conferencing to phone calls to written communications, you can choose how you’d like to connect with your online therapists. Online therapy isn’t restricted to depression; people with an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder depression can opt for it.


Whether you’re living with traditional depression or you have been diagnosed with “other specified” or “unspecified” depressive disorders, you may benefit from talking with someone. BetterHelp medical professionals are ready to be your allies in the fight against depression and tailor the right plan.


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