How to Identify Depression Types


Many people may not realize that there are several different kinds of depression. Often, we use the word "depression" to mean specifically major depressive disorder, but this use is imprecise, at best. It's important to know how to identify depression types successfully in case you or a loved one ends up shows signs of one of the lesser known, but no less serious forms of depression.

Major Depressive Disorder

As stated above, this is what most people mean when they just say "depression". It is also known as major depression or clinical depression, and is characterized by feelings of sadness and loneliness that persist daily for at least two weeks. It is acute (i.e., happens in discrete periods of time) and disabling (i.e., interferes with daily life). Major depression cannot be due to drug use or the immediate grief over a loved one's death. It can occur once, or recur over a lifetime.

Manic Depression or Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder causes a person to alternate between periods of severe depression and mania, a psychotic condition wherein a person is irrationally elated. A person can have bipolar I disorder, where they have had at least one manic episode with or without the depression component, or bipolar II disorder, where the person has had one episode of depression, along with at least one hypomanic (mildly manic) episode.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, or Winter of Seasonal Depression

This recurring form of depression happens during the darker winter months, and is thought to be related to lower levels of vitamin D being generated by the body due to lack of sunlight. It can very rarely also apply to recurring "summer depression".

Chronic Depression

Also called dysthymia, this is a long-term condition, lasting at least two years. The symptoms of dysthymia are not as severe as those of major depression, and it is rarely disabling. There does tend to be a certain overlap, however, of people with dysthymia and those who experience periods of major depression.

Atypical Depression

While standard clinical depression is marked by sadness, this subtype manifests with the following symptoms:

  • Overeating
  • Oversleeping
  • Sensitivity to social rejection
  • Fatigue
  • Disproportionate emotional response to events

Psychotic Depression

Along with the usual features of clinical depression, psychotic depression causes delusion thoughts or other psychotic breaks from reality. It is uncommon, but can be difficult to treat. Understanding how to identify depression types will make it easier to notice if psychotic symptoms are present in addition to depression ones.

Postpartum Depression

Unique to women who have just given birth, this form of depression is thought to affect as many as ten percent of new moms. A mother must demonstrate symptoms of major depression within a month of given birth to meet the diagnostic criteria for postpartum depression.


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