Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.
Types of Depression
Just as there is no one cause for depression, there isn’t only one type of depression. It can take many forms. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders lists nine distinct types:
- Major depression, as we discussed, is the most common type of depression. Often, people with major depression experience recurrent episodes throughout their lives.
- Dysthymia is a persistent low mood over a long period of time, even a year or more. It could be described as feeling like you’re living on autopilot.
- Some people are more sensitive to the lower amount of light in the wintertime. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression brought on from a lack of natural sunlight.
- Those with Atypical Depression often report feeling a heaviness in their limbs. They may suffer from irritability and relationship problems, as well as be prone to overeating and oversleeping.
- Bipolar Disorder is also called Manic Depressive Disorder because it involves alternating between mania and depressive episodes.
- Sometimes depressive episodes can get so severe that hallucinations or delusions are present, the person becomes catatonic, or they feel stuck in bed. This is known as Psychotic Depression.
- Postpartum Depression occurs after giving birth. Mothers may feel disconnected from their new baby or fear that they will hurt their child.
- Severe depression that shows up during the second half of the menstrual cycle is called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It affects the individual’s ability to function normally.
- Situational Depressionis triggered by a life-changing event. It could be anything, from losing your job to the death of an immediate family member.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression
Though there are multiple types of depression, many of them have similar recognizable symptoms. This list scratches the surface, but it provides a general idea of what comprises depression:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness
- Irritability, frustration, or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that used to be enjoyable
- Difficulty sleeping, sleep disturbances, or sleeping too much
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Difficulty thinking clearly, remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
- Appetite or weight changes
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or back pain
Experiencing some combination of these symptoms for a period of at least two weeks likely signifies that you are in the midst of a depressive episode.
Depression treatment tips
Learn as much as you can about your depression. It’s important to determine whether your depression symptoms are due to an underlying medical condition. If so, that condition will need to be treated first. The severity of your depression is also a factor. The more severe the depression, the more intensive the treatment you’re likely to need.
It takes time to find the right treatment. It might take some trial and error to find the treatment and support that works best for you. For example, if you decide to pursue therapy it may take a few attempts to find a therapist that you really click with. Or you may try an antidepressant, only to find that you don’t need it if you take a daily half hour walk. Be open to change and a little experimentation.
Don’t rely on medications alone. Although medication can relieve the symptoms of depression, it is not usually suitable for long-term use. Other treatments, including exercise and therapy, can be just as effective as medication, often even more so, but don’t come with unwanted side effects. If you do decide to try medication, remember that medication works best when you make healthy lifestyle changes as well.
Get social support. The more you cultivate your social connections, the more protected you are from depression. If you are feeling stuck, don’t hesitate to talk to trusted family members or friends, or seek out new connections at a depression support group, for example. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and it won’t mean you’re a burden to others. Often, the simple act of talking to someone face-to-face can be an enormous help.
Treatment takes time and commitment. All of these depression treatments take time, and sometimes it might feel overwhelming or frustratingly slow. That is normal. Recovery usually has its ups and downs.