types of depression
There are various types of depression, each with their own unique symptoms, causes and effects. Understanding your depression can help you to get the most effective treatment and better manage your life.
Symptoms of major depression (or clinical depression) may vary greatly from person to person. It is characterised by a general inability to experience pleasure or to enjoy life. If left untreated, an episode can last for a period of around 6 months. Although some people experience just a single episode in their lifetime, this is more often a recurrent condition.
Doctors grade depression from mild to severe. While mild depression will have some impact on your daily life, moderate depression will have a considerably greater impact. A depression that makes it almost impossible for you to get through your day in a functional way would be categorised as severe. Some badly depressed people may even develop psychotic symptoms.
Although people suffering from dysthymia may also sink into a major depression for a while (a state known as double depression), it is generally a less severe condition than major depression. Lasting for at least two years, its distinguishing feature is really in its duration. Mild and recurrent, dysthymia is also known as neurotic depression or chronic depression. Its chronic nature can make it difficult for a person to live life to the fullest or to even remember having had better times in the past. However, it is treatable, even if symptoms might have gone unrecognised for years.
seasonal affective disorder
Often shortened to SAD, this type of depression is at its most prevalent during late autumn and winter months, when the days are short, the sun is low in the sky and there is generally not too much natural light about. It tends to improve again as summer approaches and the length of day and the amount of natural light increases.
Our ancestors survived for millennia without electricity and artificial light. They were therefore more regulated by the cycle of day and night than we now are. Frequently, they would simply just go to bed when it became dark and get up at first light – naturally sleeping longer during the winter than in the summer. Although our physical bodies might remain adapted to this age-old rhythm, most of us now effectively override the pattern on a daily basis. However, for a small percentage of people, the seasonal lack of light will trigger in them a state of depression. This condition is, of course, more prevalent in more northerly or more southerly regions of the world, where seasonal changes are at their greatest.
It is quite common for women to experience the so-called “baby blues” after giving birth. These are characterised by mood changes, irritability and episodes of tearfulness that should naturally pass within a couple of weeks. However, more persistent, postnatal depression probably affects around 10% of mothers – with about 3% developing somewhat more serious symptoms. The condition seems to be a triggered by combination of factors that include hormonal changes related to giving birth, the stress of looking after a new-born baby and individual circumstances, such as relationship difficulties, financial problems or a lack of physical or emotional support. Also, women with a history of depression or anxiety tend to be at a higher risk.
It is helpful to realise that this frightening condition is, in fact, a treatable illness – and it is certainly not an indication that you do not want or love your baby. It is however important to seek treatment in its early stages, both for your own sake and for the sake of your baby, particularly as your emotional state may impact on the care you are able to provide.
This condition, which used to be known as manic depression, is a particularly serious form of the illness. It is characterised by often quite extreme mood changes that switch between manic episodes and episodes of depression. The depressive episodes usually last longer than the manic ones – although some people are more prone to either mania or depression.
Although, in the past, bipolar depression was simply lumped together with regular depression, there is now a growing body of evidence that suggests there are some significant differences between the two. The depressive phase can be particularly severe and even more likely to involve guilt, unexpected mood swings, restlessness and irritability than regular depression. Symptoms can be severely disruptive to jobs and hurt or destroy relationships. It can also present an increased risk of suicide attempts.
Although antidepressants tend to be detrimental to the condition, it is in fact treatable. Indeed many people with bipolar disorder have both successful careers and very good relationships. It is, however, most important for a person with the condition to actually get professional support, as it does tend to worsen without it. This support should include specialised medical treatment as well as skilled management.
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Medication isn’t the only way to correct brain abnormalities in depression. Physical exercise also brings about profound changes in the brain—changes that rival those seen with the most potent antidepressant medications.
Stephen S. Ilardi PhD, The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs, 2009