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Understanding the Different Types of Depression

Depression is a common and serious disorder that afflicts thousands of people and at its worst can be crippling. this mood disorder is known chiefly for its symptoms; the main symptom being lack of interest in everyday activities. Although there are many different types of depression, all of them share this chief symptom to different degrees. below, we’ll talk about some of the more common types of depression.

Clinical Depression or Major Depressive Disorder

The most commonly diagnosed form of depression is known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder. this chronic form of depression manifests in the form of an inability to feel joy or pleasure, which leads to feelings of hopelessness and withdrawal from school, work and other social situations. Many people suffering from clinical depression also have problems sleeping, and may either wake prematurely or fail to fall asleep at night. Others may sleep too much, experiencing hypersomnia as a symptom. Physical symptoms frequently include headaches, fatigue and fluctuating appetite leading to weight loss or weight gain. A combination of these symptoms can be disabling and prevent the depressed person from functioning. when depressive symptoms occur for a period of two weeks or more, the patient can be diagnosed with clinical depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Another type of depression is known as seasonal affective disorder. this disorder is characterized by many of the same symptoms as clinical depression, but occurs when the seasons change. During most of the year, the patient may feel healthy and experience no depressive symptoms or moods. However, seasonal changes trigger a change in the amount of serotonin found in the brain, which leads to fatigue, lack of interest in common activities, feelings of sadness or hopelessness and other symptoms. the pattern varies between patients, but classic patients experience normal health during most of the year, especially the summer, and become affected during the winter months. this may be a result of circadian rhythm disruption, and can be treated by exposure to full spectrum light therapy during the problematic part of the year.

Melancholic Depression

Melancholic depression is a severe subtype of depression that can also be diagnosed as a specifier to bipolar disorder (more on what a specifier is below). it is characterized by depressive symptoms as well as an inability to feel pleasure, persistent guilty feelings, a sleep pattern of late retiring and early awakening, psychomotor problems including overstimulation or retardation and lack of appetite with extreme weight loss. it may happen more frequently during the winter months as a response to low levels of sunlight, but is distinct from seasonal affective disorder. Interestingly, many patients experience symptoms on a cycle with heavier symptoms during the morning hours that may subside as the day progresses. Patients with this type of depression cannot tolerate most psychotherapy and must be treated with other methods, including antidepressants and electroconvulsive therapy.

These are just a few of the types of depression that occur most commonly in patients today. Rarer forms of depression occur selectively, such as catatonic depression and atypical depression, but are not seen as frequently as clinical depression and other common forms.  Additionally, depression is different for everyone who experiences it. some people may experience all the described symptoms while others will experience only a few. some depressive episodes may last for months or years while others will last just a few weeks. because of this, it is important that everyone evaluate their condition with their doctor on a personal basis and make a treatment plan that will work for them. However, knowing the different ways depression can manifest itself is a good way to stay informed about your diagnosis.

What are Specifiers? Specifying the Type of Depression

Subtypes of depression are categorized according to specifiers (yes, I know this is a weird word). Specifiers are subcategories of the main categories of depression. Basically their job is to specify within the main category of depression what the patient has. for example, pretend there are two people who have clinical depression disorder. Well, this is a pretty broad classification. Doctors use specifiers to add more description. See image below.

Understanding that there are distinct types of depressive disorders is important because each disorder should be evaluated and treated separately.

Photo of Leaves Courtesy of Gisleh on Flickr

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