When people talk about depression, they usually mean a person who is feeling down and lethargic, and who has generally lost interest in life. Most people don’t realize that there are many different types of depression a person can be suffering from, with each type often showing different symptoms.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here is a quick overview of the most common forms of depression.
Mild/Minor Depression is the least severe form of depression. Usually the symptoms aren’t so severe that they have a major impact in the life of the sufferer, although the depression can still cause distress and disruption. Many people who are suffering from mild depression never seek treatment – they don’t believe the symptoms are severe enough.
Dysthymic Disorder is a long-term form of mild depression (lasting two or more years). Like mild depression, most sufferers never seek help as they don’t believe their symptoms are severe enough. Also like mild depression, the symptoms of dysthymic depression don’t usually have a huge impact on the sufferers day-to-day life. But when the long-term results from the depression are considered, the impact can be huge. People who suffer from dysthymic depression often can’t remember a time when they weren’t depressed.
Moderate Depression fits somewhere between mild depression and major depression. The symptoms of moderate depression are more severe and numerous than mild depression, and they begin to have an impact on the work, home and social life of the sufferer. While mild depression and dysthymic depression can go unnoticed by others, the symptoms of moderate depression are usually noticeable. If left untreated, people suffering from moderate depression can slip into major depression.
Major Depression (also known as clinical or unipolar depression) is what most people think of when they think of depression – the individual seems to have totally given up on life, and has a large number of obvious symptoms. It is unlikely that someone suffering from major depression could function normally in a work, social or home setting – their symptoms are too pronounced. Suicide can be a huge risk with major depression, and professional help needs to be sought to treat the depression.
Bipolar Depression (BPD) is sometimes known as manic-depression, and is characterized by the sufferer having large mood swings from very upbeat and energetic to extreme lows. Both periods normally last for several weeks at a time. Bipolar depression is usually categorized into a number of sub-categories. While there is no firm consensus on how many sub-categories there are, the four most common are Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar I Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder and Bipolar NOS.
People with bipolar I disorder have the most extreme mood swings. Their low moods can be classified as major depression, while in their positive moods they can engage in crazy, outrageous and even dangerous activities. During this ‘mania’ state they may even suffer from paranoia or hallucinations.
People with bipolar II disorder have much less extreme mania periods. Indeed, many bipolar II sufferers go untreated because people mistake their ‘mania’ phase for simply getting over their depression. People with bipolar II don’t suffer from paranoia or hallucinations.
Cyclothymic disorder is a milder but much more long-term version of bipolar disorder (usually lasting for two or more years). Like bipolar II the mania phases are relatively minor, but in addition their depressive phases aren’t so severe that they classify as major depression. If left untreated, cyclothymic depression can develop into bipolar II depression.
Finally, Bipolar NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) is a catch-all category for people who have some of the symptoms of bipolar, but those symptoms don’t allow the person to be neatly categorized in one of the three other categories. For example, the sufferer may have fast cycling between the manic and depressive states, or manic states without depressive states.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a severe form of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) that affects between 3% and 8% of women. Symptoms of depression appear around a week prior to menstruation, and disappear within a few days of menstruation beginning.
Postnatal (Postpartum) Depression can occur any time in the first 12 months after a baby is born. Some form of postnatal depression affects over 80% of new mothers, although most who are affected only have a very mild form of depression that usually passes naturally with rest and the support of family and friends. However around 15% of mothers get a more severe form of postnatal depression, and like major depression the sufferer needs treatment and support to overcome the illness.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression caused by the changing light levels throughout the year. The most common for of SAD is caused by the low-light levels of winter, but a much rarer form of the disorder is triggered by the high-light levels of summer.
As you can see, depression comes in many different forms – each type of depression has different triggers and symptoms associated with it, and each type of depression also responds better to different treatments. By being aware of the different forms depression can take, you can be much more prepared to help a friend of family member.