Depression Types

Understand diferences among depression types:
Clinical Depression, Bipolar Depression, Dysthymia, Postpartum Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Depression has various types determined by the cause, intensity and duration of the symptoms:

Clinical / Unipolar / Major Depression

Clinical depression is a state of persistent sad or depressed mood that interferes with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. It is usually severe enough to require depression treatment. Clinical depression symptoms are listed on the symptoms page.

Depressive episodes in clinical depression may be mild, moderate or severe. Sometimes a depressive episode may occur only once but more commonly occurs several times in a lifetime. Depression treatment is available and effective.

Bipolar Disorder / Bipolar Depression / Manic-depressive illness

Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of severe mania (highs) and depression (lows). These swings can range from extreme energy to deep despair.

Bipolar disorder usually begins as depression and the symptoms for the depressive phase are similar to unipolar or clinical depression. The symptoms of mania include:

  • great increase in energy and physical and mental activity,
  • inappropriate sense of euphoria (excitement),
  • very irritable or aggressive behavior,
  • decreased need for sleep without feeling tired,
  • racing thoughts and talking too much,
  • poor judgment,
  • distractibility,
  • impulsive or reckless behavior,
  • denial that anything is wrong,
  • in the most severe cases delusions and hallucinations.

Bipolar disorder affects both sexes equally in all age and racial groups. People who have relatives with bipolar disorder may have a greater chance of developing it themselves. A stressful environment may be involved in its onset. Substance abuse problems are very common.

Many people with bipolar depression resist entering treatment during the beginning of a manic phase. They think that they feel very good and this is a serious judgment problem.

Effective treatment of bipolar disorder is available and can be achieved with proper medication managed by a physician. Research studies have shown that psychotherapy (like cognitive behavioural therapy) as well as self-help resources (like bibliotherapy) are very useful as an adjunct to medication in depression treatment of bipolar disorder. The data indicated that patients who used combination of medication and these therapies had lower rate of relapse than patients who received medication alone.

Dysthymia / Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymia is chronic but low to moderate level of depression that keeps one from functioning well or feeling good. Life lacks joy and pleasure that continues for at least two years.

The symptoms for dysthimia are:

  • Depressed mood
  • Poor appetite (either increased or decreased)
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Withdrawal from friends and family

Dysthymia differs from major or clinical depression in the severity of the symptoms. Dysthymia is less disabling, but people usually suffer from this disorder all of their lives.

The primary symptom in adults with dysthimic disorder is different from that in children and teenagers. Adults are chronically mildly depressed, whereas children and adolescents are irritable and defiant and the duration for diagnosing them only needs to be one year.

Some people with dysthymia develop a major or clinical depression during the course of their depression. The presence of both conditions is known as “double depression”.

Dysthimia should be treated and responds to treatment well.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression may occur after childbirth as one of the most common complications after pregnancy. If not recognized and treated, this condition may last for weeks, months and even longer.

Researchers believe that hormonal changes in a woman’s body in the first 24 hours after childbirth may trigger postpartum depression. Other factors that may contribute to this condition are feeling tired after delivery, unable to sleep properly, feeling overwhelmed and stressed out with many concerns and responsibilities about baby and changes in personal life, work and home routines.

The symptoms for postpartum depression are almost the same as for the clinical depression:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, hopeless, worthless, guilty
  • Irritability and crying a lot
  • Fatigue, low energy and lack of motivation
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering and making decisions
  • Sleeping and eating disturbances (either increased or decreased)
  • Having headaches, heart palpitations, muscle tension
  • Inability to take pleasure and interests in life
  • Social withdrawal

The “baby blues” may happen right after childbirth and last for a few days to a week. Postpartum depression is more severe condition that can happen anytime within the first year after childbirth and keeps women from functioning well and feeling good for longer period of time.

Women should know that postpartum depression is treatable. Depression treatment is needed immediately.

Seasonal Affective Disorder / SAD

Seasonal affective disorder is a common type of depression that is experienced during the fall and winter months with symptoms subsiding during the spring and summer. January and February are the worst months for many people with this disorder. The milder form of this disorder is called “winter blues”.

According to some theories, seasonal affective disorder may be caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the reduction of daylight hours and lack of sunlight in winter. It may disrupt circadian rhythms that regulate the body internal clock (sleep-wake cycles). Increased production of melatonin and low levels of serotonin are associated with seasonal affective disorder.

Some people are more sensitive to changes in light than others and more susceptible to SAD. Symptoms may be mild, but sometimes severe enough that therapy is needed.

The symptoms for SAD are:

  • Depressed mood
  • Extreme fatigue and low energy
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite and body weight (increased)
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Body aches or pains
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in activities
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, making decisions
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidal thoughts

The therapy for SAD usually includes light therapy, antidepressants, psychotherapy and self-help treatments.


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