Five types of depression (and how to recognise them)
It's World Mental Health day. There are many different kinds of depressive disorders. It is important to talk to a doctor about how you’re feeling because depression can be treated with therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Everybody feels down in the dumps from time to time, but if the sadness persists, along with various other symptoms (that we will go into), you might suffer from clinical depression. It is defined as: “Depression, in psychology, a mood or emotional state that is marked by feelings of low self-worth or guilt and a reduced ability to enjoy life. A person who is depressed usually experiences several of the following symptoms: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or pessimism; lowered self-esteem and heightened self-depreciation; a decrease or loss of ability to take pleasure in ordinary activities; reduced energy and vitality; slowness of thought or action; loss of appetite; and disturbed sleep or insomnia.”
Clinical depression can be triggered by events in your life, and/or wonky brain chemistry. There are many different kinds of depressive disorders. It is important to talk to a doctor about how you’re feeling because depression can be treated with therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Depression affects the way you think, feel, and act, and your ability to live your life. It affects your studies, if you’re still studying, or your ability to work. Once you approach your GP or family doctor, they will ideally refer you to a mental health professional who will be able to tell you what kind of depression you’re suffering from based on your symptoms. It’s important to get a diagnosis because it’s the first step in treating your illness. (Depression IS an illness, just like any other.)
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
I suffer from MDD or Major Depressive Disorder, and I’ve had it since my mid-teens. I am currently on a treatment plan of therapy and medication, two things that have gone a long way towards restoring my quality of life. It is also called unipolar depression (persistent sadness) or clinical depression and is one of the more severe forms of depression that there is.
Symptoms include, but are not restricted to:
Persistent sadness that lasts weeks, months, and even years
Inability to take pleasure in anything
Persistent thoughts of suicide
Loss of appetite
Weight loss or weight gain
Inability to sleep through the night
Feeling restless and anxious
Feeling sluggish and lethargic
Nervous tics such as teeth grinding
If you suffer from most of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you are likely to have clinical depression, and you will be prescribed medication and other treatments (such as therapy). In very severe cases, medication and therapy alone won’t suffice. In those cases doctors try treatments such as ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy) which is a procedure done under general anaesthesia in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT causes changes in brain chemistry that rapidly reverses the symptoms of clinical depression, and it was a treatment I was considering when my first round of medication did nothing for me. When my medicines were adjusted (this is common; the first or second cocktail of medicines may not work right away, but it’s important to keep persisting) the cloud lifted and I didn’t need to resort to ECT.
Bipolar Disorder (BPD)
Unlike unipolar depression, which is consistent sadness, people who suffer from bipolar disorder have mood highs that range from high energy ‘ups’ to debilitating ‘lows’, during which the symptoms mimic those of clinical depression. Bipolar disorder is also called manic depression because the highs can cause manic behaviour during which time they act overly happy and energised. Medication is used to bring the mood swings under control, with doctors prescribing mood stabilisers. However, having said that, doctors don’t usually prescribe traditional antidepressants for people suffering from bipolar disorder because, for a small percentage of sufferers, traditional antidepressants can speed up the highs and cause rapid mood swings, which are both exhausting and dangerous.
Some symptoms of mania (the highs) include:
Happiness and excitement
Unusually high sex drive
Sudden mood swings from joy to irritability
Less need to sleep
Drug and alcohol abuse
Some symptoms of the lows include:
Thoughts of suicide
Hypomania (delusions and hallucinations)
Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)
Dysthymia or Persistent Depressive Disorder occurs when a person has been having depression for two or more years. Sometimes a sufferer may experience relief from the illness, which may be mild, moderate, or severe, but this relief doesn’t last. PDD is not as severe as major depressive disorder, but the symptoms are insidious and ongoing.
Some of those symptoms are:
Inability to go to sleep or sleeping too much
Fatigue and lack of energy
Inability to take pleasure in anything
Changes in appetite
Treatment for PDD involves medication and psychotherapy, and it is estimated that the disorder affects more women (1.9%) than men (1%).
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is triggered by the change in seasons. People suffering from SAD typically refer to their condition as ‘winter blues’ although it is so much more serious than just feeling blue. Most people start feeling sad as the weather progresses from autumn to the winter, although there are reports of people suffering from SAD in the spring and summer as well. For those who suffer from winter SADs, their mood picks up and remains buoyant in the spring and summer.
SAD is said to be triggered by the disturbance in the normal circadian rhythm of the body. The light that enters through the eyes is said to influence this rhythm, and any changes in the light (for example, less sunlight during the autumn and winter months) can cause depression. This is why the treatment for SAD involves light therapy, with patients prescribed sitting in front of the lightbox for fifteen to thirty minutes per day.
SAD is often undiagnosed and unreported but the prevalence seems to increase the further north or south one is from the equator.
Some symptoms include:
Post-Partum Depression (PPD)
Pregnancy brings about several hormonal changes that affect a woman’s moods severely. But PPD, or postpartum depression, should not be dismissed as ‘the baby blues’. It is a serious condition that has a number of symptoms that could affect both the mother’s health as well as the baby’s.
PPD ranges from persistent sadness and lethargy to postpartum psychosis, which brings about confusion, hallucinations, and delusions. If left untreated, PPD can last for a year, or longer. Thankfully therapy and medication have been proven to be effective on PPD, and new mothers can get the help they need.
Some symptoms include:
Inability to bond with baby
Severe mood swings
Panic attacks and anxiety
Inability to take pleasure in anything, including the new baby
These are just five types of depression that affect people all over the world. Today, on World Mental Health day, my goal was to highlight depression to show people that there is more to depression than just ‘sadness’. To explain away someone’s depression as sadness is to not acknowledge the severity of the symptoms that they live with and battle on a day to day basis. When it comes to depression, knowledge about the symptoms and types of depression is important, but it is more important to treat sufferers with compassion and kindness. You never know – your kindness can save a life. So please be aware – and be kind.