Difference Between Primary and Secondary Depression

Depressed man

Depression occurs when a neurotransmitter in the brain known as serotonin is imbalanced in the brain, hence affecting mood and personality. This condition affects millions of people at some point in their lives. The classification of depression is a controversial topic that has stirred much debate among psychiatrists. The reason behind this is the notion that if there are different types of depression; then the outcome, causes and response to treatment will differ.

As of today, there is no precise diagnostic test for depression such as scan or blood test. This makes it a little difficult for the doctor to confirm whether an individual has the disorder or not. One popular way to classify depression is to break it into primary and secondary depression depending on the cause of the condition.

Primary Depression

Primary depression is not triggered by any other psychological or medical cause. Rather, this type of depression is triggered by psychological instability, genetic predisposition, medications or substances such as illegal drugs and alcohol. Based on genetic predisposition, individuals who have a family history of depression face a greater risk of suffering from this condition at some point in their lives. Moreover, certain medications prescribed to treat high blood pressure, epilepsy and heart conditions can trigger depression.

Secondary Depression

Secondary depression is caused by one or more negative life events such as illness, divorce or death of a loved one. Unlike primary depression, this kind of depression is triggered by a medical condition known as thyroid gland disorder and by a psychiatric illness identified as schizophrenia.

Distinction between Primary and Secondary Depression

Research indicates that patients suffering from secondary depression have less severe, non life-threatening suicidal thoughts than those who are experiencing primary depression.
The data also indicates that individuals with secondary depression suffer from a condition called chronic dysphoria than those with primary depression.


Usually, there are five categories of depression which includes postpartum, catatonic, melancholic, seasonal affective disorder and atypical depression. Postpartum is a form of depression experienced by new mothers. Atypical depression is a type of depression which is hard to treat and its symptoms includes insomnia and restlessness. Catatonic depression impairs motor function while melancholic depression is associated with excessive feeling of guilt. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs in the winter and fall.


According to the American Psychiatric Association manual, depression can be diagnosed after you've had an episode of depression for a minimum of 2 weeks. During this period, you may experience the following depressive symptoms such as decreased or increased appetite, sadness, anger, frustrations, insomnia or excessive sleeping, occurrence of suicidal thoughts, poor concentration, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, loss of interest in things you previously adored and feeling of hopelessness.


It’s advisable for you to seek help when you start to experiencing the symptoms associated with depression. Medication is one common way of treating depression. Generally, most depression sufferers are treated with medication management which comprises of antidepressants and therapy. Psychotherapy and hospitalization is recommended for severe cases.


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