Depression affects one in 10 Americans, with sufferers experiencing persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. Left untreated, clinical depression can last for years and severely interfere with a person’s relationships and responsibilities. There are two main different types of depression, and understanding what type a person has will help determine the type of treatment they should receive.
Major depressive disorder is characterized by a near-constant state of sadness, emptiness and despair that lasts for at least two weeks. This debilitating disease can make simple things like eating, sleeping and working difficult to do. Left untreated, episodes of major depression last an average of six months, although 20 percent of sufferers have symptoms for two years. There is also a 50 percent chance of recurrence with major depression.
There are five “subtypes” of major depressive disorder.
1. Atypical Depression, in which sufferers have mood reactivity characterized by temporary emotional highs from good news and low from bad news. Some experts believe this may be a milder form of bipolar disorder.
2. Postpartum Depression, which can occur in women after childbirth. Different than the typical “baby blues,” sufferers can experience feelings of worthlessness, restlessness and paranoia.
3. Seasonal Affective Disorder, characterized by sadness, social withdrawal, hopelessness and fatigue brought on by the limited sunlight from late fall to early winter.
4. Melancholic Depression, where sufferers experience an inability to find pleasure in positive things. Significant weight loss, insomnia, and feelings of guilt are typical experiences.
5. Catatonic Depression, where sufferers have severe physical symptoms. These can involve an excessive amount of movement with seemingly no purpose, or a sudden inability to move at all. This is the least common subtype of major depression.
Dysthymia lasts longer than major depression, with sufferers exhibiting a depressed mood most of the time for at least two years. To be diagnosed with Dysthymia, patients must also exhibit at least two of the following symptoms: low self-esteem, hopelessness, poor concentration, poor appetite or overeating, insomnia or excessive sleep, indecisiveness, or lack of energy.
Some patients may have disorders that are characterized by depressive symptoms but don’t fit into the categories of Major Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia. There are also some mood disorders that cause depression symptoms, but are not depression. It is important to distinguish these from depression, as their treatments may vary greatly.
Everyone experiences emotional reactions to sad and stressful events that happen in their life. For most people, these feelings are healthy and temporary. However for depression sufferers, these feelings become oppressive and long lasting. Thankfully, those who seek treatment often see improvements in their symptoms and have a greater quality of life.