What Is Major Depression Disorder?

Updated March 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression can mean a lot of things. When most of us talk about depression, we’re talking about a feeling – an emotion that everyone gets from time to time. While it isn’t comfortable to experience feelings of depression, it’s also not dangerous for most people.

Depression Can Disguise Itself As Many Other Issues

Here, we’ll talk about some of the most common and severe depressive disorders, including symptoms and how to get help, as well as depression NOS. However, “depression” is also a class of mental health disorders. People experiencing these disorders experience feelings and even physical symptoms of depression for inordinate periods that prevent them from living healthy lives.

Common Symptoms

Major Depressive Disorder is its own disorder. However, other major depressive disorders have their own differences in terms of causes, symptoms, and treatments. However, all of these disorders have symptoms that are common to them.

In most of the articles about depression on this site, we’ll point out that these symptoms have to stick around for a while for a diagnosis. While that’s still true in the case of major depressive disorders, specifics like when the symptoms manifest and how long they stick around for can be criteria of specific disorders, so we’ll talk about times when we talk about specific conditions.

Further, few people experience symptoms of depression for the entire time that they have depression. For the most part, symptoms come as “depressive episodes” that can last for as little as a few days at a time or may last for months or years.

Before we get into how these conditions are different, let’s look at the symptoms that are common to all forms of major depressive disorders.

Low Mood, Low Energy

The best-known and most recognizable symptom of depression is the inability to do things. This can be split into low mood and low energy.

Low mood includes feelings of sadness or hopelessness, as well as lack of interest. People with depression may not see the point in meeting obligations like going to work. They may also lose interest in things that they used to enjoy, like socializing and doing hobbies.

However, some people who have depression may want to do things or understand the importance of doing things but not have the physical energy. As we’ll see in a moment, depression comes with physical symptoms too. These can include a lack of energy as well as physical aches and pains that make it difficult to accomplish tasks.

Physical Symptoms

As mentioned above, some people with major depressive disorders experience physical symptoms, including low energy but also including aches and pains. These can include headaches, stomach pains, and even muscle soreness.

Physical symptoms can also include weight loss or weight gain that isn’t explained by other factors.

While we usually associate depression with people staying in bed all day, it’s not always the case. While some people with depression do sleep a lot more, some people with depression have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, which may contribute to feelings of low energy. This is particularly common in children and adolescents with depression, but it can happen to anyone.

Thoughts Of Suicide and Death

Thoughts of suicide are another well-known symptom of depression, though they are – thankfully – less common.

Older adults experiencing depression may be less likely to experience thoughts of suicide but may instead experience obsessive thoughts of death. While not dangerous on their own like thoughts of suicide can be, thoughts of death should be taken seriously as a symptom of depression.

Major Depressive Disorder

Now that we have a general understanding of general depression let’s get into some of the specific major depressive disorders.

A major depressive disorder is a mental health condition manifesting at least five of the major symptoms of depression for at least two weeks.As mentioned above, “major depressive disorder” is both a classification of depressive disorders and their own specific condition. However, as specific conditions go, it’s not very specific.

Major depressive disorder can be treated with medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. While some people choose one or the other depending on their personal preferences, ability to pay through insurance, schedule, and other factors, people who use a combination of both therapies typically see the best response in the shortest time.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

A persistent depressive disorder is similar to major depressive disorder. Still, it involves fewer symptoms with larger gaps in between – but no gap for more than two months – experienced for at least two years. Sometimes, persistent depressive disorder follows major depressive disorder as the individual improves through treatment without seeing complete remission of symptoms.

A persistent depressive disorder is typically treated through the same treatments or combinations of treatments.

Medical Conditions

Some people experience depression as the result of another medical condition, such as those that lead to imbalances of brain chemicals, as some hormonal disorders do.

The treatment of disorder in these cases may depend on the underlying medical condition. The condition or medication for that condition may prevent safe medication of the depressive symptoms. However, talk therapy is always an option.

Mental Health Conditions

Just like mental disorders can be caused or aggravated by physical conditions, major depressive episodes are often caused by more complex mental disorders that also include other symptoms. The most common and familiar examples are seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder.

The seasonal affective disorder occurs when a lack of sunlight prevents their body from making enough of a vital messenger molecule. This leads to depressive disorders or an increase in depressive episodes during the winter months. In some people, it also leads to manic episodes in the spring when sunlight is prevalent again, and their bodies must adjust. The seasonal affective disorder can be treated through exposure to an artificial light that replicates sunlight.Once called “manic depression,” bipolar disorder is a mental condition that leads to alternating cycles of depressive episodes and “manic episodes” characterized by high energy, but also sometimes anxiety, lack of focus, and impulsive behavior. Bipolar disorders are typically treated with medication specific to that condition.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Depending on who you talk to, co-occurring disorders, also called comorbid disorders, can mean several things.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines co-occurring disorders as a mental disorder experienced at the same time as a substance abuse disorder. This is tragically common as people attempt to relieve the symptoms of their mental health condition by using substances like alcohol and illicit drugs – which in turn worsen their mental health condition.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines co-occurring disorders as two or more mental disorders happening at the same time. In the case of depression, this may include substance abuse but may also include anxiety, eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorders, physical conditions as discussed above, and other conditions.

No matter how you define co-occurring disorders, the complication of treating them is the same: medication used to treat depression cannot aggravate any of the other conditions. It cannot interact with any other drug – prescribed or otherwise – present in the body.

In the case of substance abuse, this means that the individual often undergoes substance abuse counseling and talk therapy until they no longer use the substance and can begin to receive medication for their depression. Of course, talk therapy for their depression is always an option as well.

Finding Help

No matter what you think may be causing your depressive symptoms, the steps for getting help are the same.

Keep A Journal

Keeping a journal can help you to establish a timeline for your symptoms, as well as a more complete list of your symptoms. These can help you narrow down or eliminate potential mental disorders.

If you decide to go to your care provider for a diagnosis, your journal can help you to get a more accurate diagnosis in a shorter amount of time—the more detailed the journal, the better.

Maintain Social Connections

Maintaining social relationships is important in depressive disorders for several reasons. For one thing, it can make depressive disorders less likely in the first place. It also helps when others can point out when you may be approaching a depressive episode.

Relationships With Your Care Provider

Depression Can Disguise Itself As Many Other Issues

Maintaining a relationship with your care provider might be less fun, but it’s just as important.

Maintaining a relationship with your care provider can help you to get an accurate diagnosis in as little time as possible. It’s particularly important if you have a physical health condition or are taking medication that may cause or aggravate depressive disorders.

Know Your Options

A theme in this article has been that how you receive treatment for your depressive disorder depends on the depressive disorder that you have. That’s particularly true when it comes to medication.

However, the other end of the treatment spectrum – talk therapy – is helpful for all kinds of major depression. It’s also helpful for people that don’t have depression – and diagnosis isn’t required to talk therapy.

For most people, seeing a therapist or counselor in person does require a diagnosis in that a diagnosis will help them get their insurance to cover talk therapy.

The Takeaway

Telehealth talk therapy solutions are a time-effective and cost-effective alternative. For more information about how a telehealth talk therapy solution could be right for you or someone you care about, visit BetterHelp.

The sheer number of depressive disorders out there can make having symptoms of depression seem even more hopeless. While we hope that this article gave you some background, the concern over what kind of depressive disorder is causing your symptoms should be more your doctor’s concern than yours. All you need to do is make your symptoms to an expert and follow their advice.

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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