Attributes of Atypical Depression


Atypical depression, despite its name, is quite common. It is diagnosed more often in women than in men, and frequently develops during adolescence.

What distinguishes atypical depression are symptoms involving hunger, weight gain, sleep, and relationship issues. Treatment, as with other types of depression, includes psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments.

Atypical Symptoms

To be clinically diagnosed with atypical depression an individual first has to meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Besides having major depressive symptoms such as sadness, fatigue, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities, those with atypical depression must also be temporarily cheered up by positive interactions or events. Additionally, they must experience two of these four symptoms:

  • weight gain, a noticeable appetite increase.
  • sleeping too much or feeling sleepy much of the time.
  • extreme sensitivity to rejection; this sensitivity disrupts school, work, or relationships.
  • a heavy, leaden, or weighted feeling in the arms and legs.

A physical exam and blood tests may be required before diagnosing atypical depression to make sure the symptoms are not owed to an underlying health issue such as thyroid dysfunction.

Possible Causes and Complications

The cause of atypical depression is still a mystery. Like all depressions, it may develop from a combination of factors.

  • Genetics. The tendency toward developing depression seems to run in families.
  • Biochemistry. An imbalance in our brain’s chemicals, such as neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, dopamine), is associated with depression.
  • Events/Trauma. Distressing childhood events, chronically stressful situations, and loss (e.g., death of a loved one, unemployment, divorce) can leave us vulnerable to depression or trigger its development.

Those with atypical depression are especially prone to complications related to excess weight and obesity such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They are also at increased risk for social isolation, and distressing relationship conflicts because of their rejection sensitivity.

Research reveals that people with atypical depression tend to have more disability, miss more time from normal activities, and use more medical services than people with other forms of depression.

Ask For Help

Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression is encouraged to get professional help from a physician, psychiatrist, or mental health counselor. You might also reach out to friends, family, a spiritual leader, or a support group. Call a crisis hotline number if feeling suicidal: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).

Source: Mayo Clinic,
Photo credit: Sarah G (@flickr)


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