“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
Unless your life is thoroughly blissful, you’ve probably felt depressed at one point or another. But feeling depressed on occasion is very different from living with a depressive disorder, which can be incredibly painful for the afflicted and the people that surround them. Depression can strike anyone, at any time, for almost any reason. And, much to the surprise of many, it comes in diverse forms.
It’s caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and psychological factors – in other words, it has no single fundamental root. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, it’s best to be informed about the specific condition, how it manifests, and if/how it can be treated. So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and learn about the 6 shades of depression.
Major Depression (Clinical Depression)
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression affects an astounding 6.7% of America’s adult population. It’s characterized by overwhelming lethargy, body aches, impaired concentration, aggression and irritability, insomnia or excessive sleeping, feelings of worthlessness, as well as significant weight fluctuation notes Catherine Roberts. These symptoms must persist for at least two weeks.
Men and women express and cope with depression in different ways – men are by far less likely than women to seek professional help or even discuss their feelings with someone close to them. Still, psychotherapy (talk therapy) has proven to be an effective means of treatment for both sexes, but it can be combined with medication in instances where therapy alone is simply not enough.
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Formally Dysthymic Disorder)
Kati Morton provides a good breakdown of how persistent depressive disorder differs from major depression on her YouTube channel. She explains that unlike with major depression, to be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder a person must experience symptoms for at least two years. During that time, the afflicted may go through at least one bout of major depression along with periods of similar, though less severe symptoms.
The disorder is treated with medication and psychotherapy, but a highly supportive and goal-oriented environment is crucial for overall recovery. However, due to the nature of the disorder, focusing on change too early in the treatment can actually hinder results. Instead, therapists encourage patients to set attainable short-term goals.
Psychotic depression is a subtype of major depression. Although the two share many of the same symptoms, psychotic depression is characterized by the presence of suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, delusions, and other types of breaks with reality. While these symptoms may sound similar to those of schizophrenia, it’s important to note that delusions typical of psychotic depression are usually consistent with themes about depression.
People suffering with this form of depression tend to be ashamed of their thoughts and behaviors. They may neglect their appearance, experience severe mood swings, and/or follow disrupted sleep schedules. Just one episode of psychotic depression can increase the chance of mania and bipolar disorder occurring later in life, or another bout of psychotic depression. One in four people admitted to the hospital for depression have this disorder – it’s typically treated in a hospital setting.
Known as the “baby blues” in popular culture, postpartum depression is triggered by massive hormonal changes that naturally occur with childbirth. It affects between 10 to 15 percent of recent moms and shares many of the same symptoms with major depression. It fosters feelings of shame and inadequacy, and thoughts of harming the child and/or oneself. Catherine Pearson clearly shows how postpartum depression makes it hard for mothers to bond with their newborns.
Counseling, hormone therapy, and antidepressants are all used to treat postpartum depression, but mothers that plan on nursing usually try counseling before resorting to other options. With appropriate care, postpartum depression can be alleviated within several months, but stopping treatment before it’s completed can trigger a serious relapse and evolve into postpartum psychosis.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder usually strikes at predictable intervals. It begins during the winter months when there’s less natural sunlight, and winds down during the spring. Common symptoms include sleep problems, frequent suicidal thoughts, low energy, irritability and hypersensitivity to rejection, as well as anxiety and depression.
Some people are more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder than others. Risk factors include being young, female, having a genetic predisposition to SAD or depression, and living in places with little access to natural sunlight. Dayna Evans gives an interesting account of what her life with seasonal affective disorder is like. It’s usually treated with light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy.
Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness)
A lot less common than major depression or persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is characterized by severe and unusual shifts in mood, energy, and concentration levels. People suffering from bipolar disorder are known to be extremely unpredictable, fluctuating between mania and depression at random intervals.
It’s typically treated with medication and some form of psychotherapy. The goal is to teach afflicted individuals how to deal with problems brought on by their unpredictable behavior, and to address other common problems such as anxiety or substance abuse. But Irene M. Wielawski gives an excellent breakdown of how medication can positively impact the trajectory of treatment.