Types of Depression

Updated: Jul 10, 2018

Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you.


Depression is a common but serious illness. Many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression. What are the different forms of depression? There are several forms of depressive disorders.


Major depressive disorder, or major depression,

is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.

Depression is a common but serious illness. Most who experience depression need treatment to get better.


Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia

is characterized by long-term (2 years or longer) symptoms that may not be severe enough to disable a person but can prevent normal functioning or feeling well. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.


Minor depression

is characterized by having symptoms for 2 weeks or longer that do not meet full criteria for major depression. Without treatment, people with minor depression are at high risk for developing major depressive disorder.

Some forms of depression are slightly different, or they may develop under unique circumstances. However, not everyone agrees on how to characterize and define these forms of depression. They include:


Psychotic depression

occurs when a person has severe depression plus some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or a break with reality (delusions), or hearing or seeing upsetting things that others cannot hear or see (hallucinations).

Postpartum depression

is much more serious than the "baby blues" that many women experience after giving birth, when hormonal and physical changes and the new responsibility of caring for a newborn can be overwhelming. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.


Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. SAD may be effectively treated with light therapy, but nearly half of those with SAD do not get better with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy.


Bipolar disorder

also called manic-depressive illness, is not as common as major depression or dysthymia. Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood changes—from extreme highs (e.g., mania) to extreme lows (e.g., depression). More information about bipolar disorder is available.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

People with depressive illnesses do not all experience the same symptoms. The severity, frequency, and duration of symptoms vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.


Signs and symptoms include:

Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings

Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism

Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

Irritability, restlessness

Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex

Fatigue and decreased energy

Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions

Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping

Overeating, or appetite loss

Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

Psychotherapy

Several types of psychotherapy—or "talk therapy"—can help people with depression.

Two main types of psychotherapies—cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT)—are effective in treating depression. CBT helps people with depression restructure negative thought patterns. Doing so helps people interpret their environment and interactions with others in a positive and realistic way. It may also help you recognize things that may be contributing to the depression and help you change behaviors that may be making the depression worse. IPT helps people understand and work through troubled relationships that may cause their depression or make it worse.

For mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy may be the best option. However, for severe depression or for certain people, psychotherapy may not be enough. For teens, a combination of medication and psychotherapy may be the most effective approach to treating major depression and reducing the chances of it coming back.27 Another study looking at depression treatment among older adults found that people who responded to initial treatment of medication and IPT were less likely to have recurring depression if they continued their combination treatment for at least 2 years.

More information on psychotherapy is available on the NIMH website..

Now I'm seeing the specialist on a regular basis for "talk therapy," which helps me learn ways to deal with this illness in my everyday life, and I'm taking medicine for depression.


How can I help a loved one who is depressed?

If you know someone who is depressed, it affects you too. The most important thing you can do is help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment and go with him or her to see the doctor. Encourage your loved one to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after 6 to 8 weeks.

To help your friend or relative

  • Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.

  • Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.

  • Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.

  • Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one's therapist or doctor.

  • Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don't push him or her to take on too much too soon.

  • Provide assistance in getting to the doctor's appointments.

  • Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift.

How can I help myself if I am depressed?

If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. It may be extremely difficult to take any action to help yourself. But as you begin to recognize your depression and begin treatment, you will start to feel better.

To Help Yourself

  • Do not wait too long to get evaluated or treated. There is research showing the longer one waits, the greater the impairment can be down the road. Try to see a professional as soon as possible.

  • Try to be active and exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or another event or activity that you once enjoyed.

  • Set realistic goals for yourself.

  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set some priorities and do what you can as you can.

  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative. Try not to isolate yourself, and let others help you.

  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Do not expect to suddenly "snap out of" your depression. Often during treatment for depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before your depressed mood lifts.

  • Postpone important decisions, such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs, until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.

  • Remember that positive thinking will replace negative thoughts as your depression responds to treatment.

  • Continue to educate yourself about depression.

Where can I go for help?

If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. Others who can help are listed below.

Mental Health Resources

  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors

  • Health maintenance organizations

  • Community mental health centers

  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics

  • Mental health programs at universities or medical schools

  • State hospital outpatient clinics

  • Family services, social agencies, or clergy

  • Peer support groups

  • Private clinics and facilities

  • Employee assistance programs

  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies

  • You can also check the phone book under "mental health," "health," "social services," "hotlines," or "physicians" for phone numbers and addresses. An emergency room doctor also can provide temporary help and can tell you where and how to get further help.

What if I or someone I know is in crisis?

If you are thinking about harming yourself, or know someone who is, tell someone who can help immediately.

  • Do not leave your friend or relative alone, and do not isolate yourself.

  • Call your doctor.

  • Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room to get immediate help, or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things.

  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889) to talk to a trained counselor.

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline