Depression is a chronic illness that effects the mind and the body; it has a negative impact on how a person’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors.
There are several different types of depression, all associated with specific symptoms and behaviors. Below is a description of the three most common forms of depressive disorder. Keep in mind that within each of these types, there are many variations in symptoms; this information should be seen as a brief overview of this common disorder and not a substitute for a professional diagnosis.
Major Depressive Disorder
Major depression is marked by a combination of severe symptoms that impact one’s ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy activities that were once found pleasurable. It can occur once in a person’s life, but usually it occurs several times throughout an individual’s lifetime.
In a major depressive episode, a person feels sad, hopeless, sad and fatigued, and has problems with concentration, eating and sleeping for most of the day, more often than not for at least two consecutive weeks.
Again, it’s important to note that the symptoms of major depressive disorder can vary greatly. One person might feel sad, exhausted, and cry for much of the day, while another might put on a happy face and deny any problems. Or, one might sleep for much of the day, have food cravings and eat constantly while awake, and another might be unable to sleep and completely loses her appetite. What matters is that there is a noticeable change in one’s normal day-to-day functioning.
Dystymic disorder – also called dysthymia – is a less severe, long-term and chronic form of depression. The symptoms of dysthymia do not have the impact upon one’s life that major depressive symptoms produce. However, dysthymic symptoms keep individuals from feeling a sense of happiness or well-being. People with dysthymia typically feel that life just isn’t much fun.
Dysthymic individuals have a depressed mood for the majority of days for two years or more. They also experience two or more of the following symptoms:
- Appetite changes
- An increase or decrease in sleep
- Low energy or fatigue
- Low self-esteem
- Indecisiveness or poor concentration
- Feelings of hopelessness
To be diagnosed as dysthymic, these symptoms must be present almost continuously and not be absent for more than two consecutive months. The symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in an individual’s social life, work or day-to-day functioning. Also, at some point during the first two years of dysthymic disorder, individuals typically experience a major depressive episode.
It’s important to note that the symptoms of dysthymia are not produced by an illness or by the use of alcohol or prescription or recreational drugs.
Bipolar disorder, also knows as manic-depressive disorder, is identified by its cycling of moods. The individual experiences severe highs (manic episodes) followed by lows (depression). Sometimes the mood changes are dramatic and fast, but most of the time, they’re gradual and more subtle.
When a manic-depressive individual is in a depressed cycle, they might have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder. During the manic cycle, the person appears to be hyperactive, extremely talkative, grandiose and exuberant. They may behave in extreme ways that impair judgment, thinking and social behaviors; in fact, people in a manic phase of bipolar disorder can behave in ways that later prove embarrassing or cause problems. For example, they might have inappropriate romantic “flings” or make unwise business decisions.
Finding Help for Depression
The negative effects of depression will not go away on their own, but treatment is widely available and can have dramatic results. A visit to a family doctor or a mental health clinician is typically an appropriate first step in treating depression and moving on with one’s life