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Understanding the Various Forms of Depression

Geraldine is a lifestyle and wellness writer. She writes about substance abuse, mental health, and how to live a healthy lifestyle.


Understanding the Various Forms of Depression

We all experience the occasional blues at some point or another, particularly as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when we talk about depression, this isn’t just sadness. We’re talking about a mental health disorder that deeply affects someone’s life. Still, most people believe depression is just sadness when the various forms of depression can show different signs and symptoms in reality.

What is Depression?

It’s common for people to experience periods of sadness and grief. But when this profound sadness lasts over two weeks, this can be a sign of depression. Overall, depression affects everyone differently, and these symptoms will affect people differently, too. The most common symptoms of depression include:

  • Deep feelings of sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Appetite changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Difficulty getting through normal activities
  • Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Preoccupation with death

The Various Form of Depression

Like other mental health conditions, there are many types of depression. A very complex disorder that involves our hormones, previous trauma experiences, substance abuse, and so much more. Therapists treat depression on a case-by-case basis because it can really change tremendously from patient to patient.

Major Depression

The most common form of depression is major depressive disorder, classic depression, and unipolar depression. Around 16.2 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime. This type of depression happens when people experience symptoms most of the time for most days.

Symptoms of major depression are:

  • Loss of interest in previously engaging activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Trouble getting sleep
  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Low energy
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Thoughts of suicide

These symptoms go on for weeks and sometimes even months. For those who struggle with major depression, their condition is likely to affect their daily activities, relationships, and even work life. In this case, talk therapy can help, as well as antidepressants.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

This type of depression lasts for over two years, sometimes called dysthymia or chronic depression. A persistent depressive disorder doesn’t necessarily feel like an intense major depressive episode, but it can still affect someone’s life.

Common symptoms include:

  • Deep sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Appetite changes
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to feel joy, even on happy occasions
  • Social withdrawal

The biggest problem with persistent depressive disorder is that not only is it a long-term condition, but sometimes symptoms become less intense before worsening again, which makes treatment extremely challenging. Psychotherapy and antidepressants are most likely the courses of treatment.

Bipolar Disorder

Most people don’t know that bipolar disorder falls under depression; in fact, it’s also known as “manic depression.” Someone with bipolar disorder experiences mood episodes that can change without reason. These episodes can go from high energy to low depressive periods. For someone to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, they need to experience symptoms for at least seven days or less if their symptoms lead to hospitalization.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include those of major depression, as well as:

  • High energy
  • Reduced sleep
  • Irritability
  • Racing thoughts
  • Grandiose thinking
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Risky or self-destructive behavior
  • Euphoric feelings

There are three FDA-approved medications to help with bipolar disorder. Still, psychotherapy can help promote long-term recovery and reduce the frequency of episodes over time.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The so-called winter blues are seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a common form of depression that carries a seasonal component. Seasonal depression occurs when people experience a major depressive episode with a seasonal pattern, which is during the winter months. Some experts believe SAD is linked to a decline in sunlight exposure, which lowers vitamin D levels, but there’s no known cause for this disorder.

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Symptoms of the seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight gain
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness

Seasonal depression symptoms can start as early as during the fall months and worsen as the season progresses. Some people may experience suicidal thoughts and other severe symptoms.

Psychotic Depression

Also known as depressive psychosis or simply psychosis, depression causes people to lose touch with reality. Most people experience hallucinations and delusions, which can be troublesome and scary. A combination of both antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs is most likely needed to treat psychotic depression.

The most common signs and symptoms of psychosis include:

  • Hallucinations (visual and audio)
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia

Peripartum and Postpartum Depression

While postpartum depression is a reasonably known concept, women can experience major depression in the weeks before childbirth. Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and childbirth can cause changes in the brain that lead to mood swings and depressive episodes.

Symptoms of perinatal and postpartum depression are:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Rage
  • Exhaustion
  • Irrational worry about the baby’s health and safety
  • Difficulty caring for themselves or the new baby
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or self-harm

It’s impossible to rule out who will struggle with postpartum depression. Still, women with a lack of super have a higher risk. In the case of a severe depressive episode, doctors might consider the use of antidepressants.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In this case, PMDD involves intense psychological symptoms that can disrupt someone’s day-to-day functions. Like postpartum depression, PMDD is believed to be the result of hormonal changes during a woman’s cycle, with symptoms starting after ovulation.

Beyond the physical symptoms of PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed

Most women dismiss PMDD symptoms and think they’re normal signs of their periods. However, sometimes PMDD can induce thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Situational Depression

Although situational depression isn’t a technical term used in psychiatry, it helps explain a different form of depression. Situational depression happens when people have a depressed mood, and they’re having difficulties managing a stressful event in their lives. Also known as stress response syndrome, situational depression can be the starting point of a clinical depressive disorder.

The most common events that trigger situational depression are:

  • The death of a loved one
  • A serious illness
  • Going through divorce
  • Being in an abusive relationship
  • Being unemployed
  • Facing legal troubles

Situational depression symptoms include:

  • Frequent uncontrollable crying
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Appetite changes
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Social withdrawal

Of course, it’s normal to feel anxious, stressed, and sad during events like these. However, situational depression happens when these feelings are out of proportion and start interfering with your daily life. Interestingly, these symptoms usually start within the three months of the initial event, and sometimes people have difficulties making the connection.

Atypical Depression

Despite its name, atypical depression isn’t rare. Atypical depression happens when depression temporarily goes away in response to a positive event. The challenge with this form of depression is that, most likely, you don’t seem depressed to others or even yourself. Still, atypical depression can occur during a major depressive episode or with persistent depression.

The most common symptoms of atypical depression include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Disordered eating
  • Poor body image
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Aches and pain
  • Heaviness in arms or legs

Suicide Prevention Tips

If you think you or someone you know is at risk of self-harm or hurting someone else, please do the following:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number
  • Stay with the person until help arrives
  • Try to remove any guns, knives, medications, or any other item that may cause harm
  • Listen to the person, but don’t judge, argue, yell, or threaten with anything

Remember, you can get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-8255.

Finding Help Near You

Depression is more common than most people think. There’s an undeniable cycle between depression and substance abuse. This is why our dual diagnosis treatment program offers support and guidance to treat both conditions simultaneously. Research also points out that failing to treat both disorders simultaneously increases someone’s risk of relapse and overdose. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please seek help.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Geraldine Orentas


Kathy Henderson from Pa on May 14, 2021:

Great article for this season we are in; I see many suffering during this time of uncertainty and isolation. Thank you for sharing!

Priya from Pune on May 14, 2021:

Great article. I'm suffering from clinical depression and anxiety since 6-7 years and under medication. I can totally relate to this article. Just a request, it would be great if you could write an article on problems and challenges faced by people experiencing depression and how the society treats them. Everyone should know that this is not a choice and a constant struggle which becomes even more difficult to handle when those around you do not treat you well.

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