What is depression?

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Depression is a mood disorder that affects over 16 million Americans. About 7 percent of adults have a depressive episode every year.

Clinical depression is more than just feeling down. It’s characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that don’t go away on their own. Feeling down on occasion is a normal and important part of life. Sad and distressful events occur in everyone’s life, and responding to them emotionally is healthy. However, feeling miserable consistently and without any sense of hope isn’t normal. This symptom can indicate depression, which is a serious medical condition.

People experience this mood disorder in different ways. There are also different types of depression. The type of depression you have helps determine the kind of medical treatment you should receive. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the two most common types of depression are major depressive disorder (MDD) and persistent depressive disorder (PDD).

Part 2 of 6: Major depressive disorder

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

People with major depression experience an almost constant state of sadness, emptiness, and despair for at least two weeks. MDD is a debilitating disease that can seriously affect your health and well-being. If you have MDD, you may be unable to enjoy activities that you once found pleasurable, and you may have a hard time:

  • eating
  • sleeping
  • working
  • connecting

Many people use the word “depression” to describe this mood disorder. However, medical professionals prefer to use the term “major depressive disorder” or “major depression.” Both of these terms describe a specific medical condition rather than a general group of behaviors that don’t meet the criteria for an MDD diagnosis. When people refer to “clinical depression,” they’re typically referring to MDD.

In some cases, the symptoms and the course of this disorder are significantly different than usual. This can be due to certain behaviors or other factors. MDD can be a single episode, it can be ongoing, or it can recur.

There following are different subtypes of MDD:

Major depressive disorder with atypical features

People with MDD are uniformly depressed, but people who have MDD with atypical features have what’s called mood reactivity. That is, you experience temporary emotional highs from good news and lows from bad news. Some mental health experts believe that this type of depression may be a milder form of bipolar disorder known as “cyclothymia.” Atypical depression often first appears in the teenage years, and it can continue into adult life.

People with atypical depression can also have:

  • significant weight gain
  • an increase in appetite
  • excessive sleep
  • leaden paralysis, or a sense of heaviness in the arms or legs
  • sensitivities to rejection

Major depressive disorder with peripartum onset

This condition was once called postpartum depression. This form of MDD is diagnosed if MDD occurs during pregnancy or within four weeks after you’ve delivered your baby.

It’s estimated that 3 to 6 percent of women will experience this type of MDD during pregnancy or in the postpartum period. New research shows that about 50 percent of these episodes begin before delivery. The cause of this isn’t known, but medical experts changed the name from postpartum depression to peripartum depression because of this statistic. Women with this disorder often have:

  • anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • a loss of appetite
  • problems sleeping
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • restlessness
  • paranoia

In rare cases, this type of depression can have psychotic features.

Major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns

MDD with seasonal patterns was formally called seasonal affective disorder. This diagnosis only applies to recurring episodes of MDD. If you have this condition, you experience depression symptoms during a certain time of the year.

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