Conditions

Exploring the Different Types of Depression

Depression isn’t just feeling blue — it’s a heavyweight in every aspect of life. About 6% of adults grapple with it annually. Knowing the different types is crucial for personalized treatment. From therapy to medication and lifestyle tweaks, there’s a path to reclaiming joy.

Wendy Wisner By Wendy Wisner, MFA, IBCLC

Updated on May 23, 2024

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Depression is more than just feeling sad or down. It’s a mental health condition that can affect all aspects of our lives: our relationships, our ability to function on a day-to-day basis, our home and work life, and our overall health and happiness.

Clinical depression is common. In any given year, about 6% of adults—1 in 15 adults— will experience depression. Over 16% of us will experience depression at some point in our lives.

Still, not all of us experience depression in the same way, and that’s partly because within the umbrella of clinical depression, there are several different depression types. When you are experiencing feelings of depression, it can be helpful to understand which type of depression you are dealing with, so that you can get treatment geared toward your unique needs.

7 Common Types of Depression

The type of depression you are experiencing will depend on how your symptoms present, what is causing your symptoms, and your current life circumstances. It’s possible to experience more than one type of depression throughout the course of your lifetime, especially if you are prone to depression in general.

Here are some of the most common types of depression, and what they may look like:

Major Depressive Disorder (MMD)

Major depressive disorder (MMD) is one of the most common psychiatric conditions worldwide, and 5-17% of adults will experience it in their lifetime. MMD is characterized by a depressed mood, low energy, inability to concentrate, disinterest in activities you used to enjoy, and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and numbness. Suicidal ideation is also possible with MMD.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is a type of depression that may be less severe than MMD, but is usually longer lasting. People who have PPD may feel restless and unhappy, but may also have periods of feeling more normal. One of the more difficult aspects of PPD is how long it lasts. To be diagnosed with PDD, you have to have had your symptoms for at least two years.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that alternate between depression and mania (or a less severe form called hypomania). Manic episodes are characterized by euphoric feelings, racing throughs, high energy, and risk taking. The depression episodes are similar to major depressive disorder (MDD) and come with an increased risk of suicide.

Postpartum Depression (PPD)

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder affecting women or birthing parents in the first year after childbirth. The disorder is characterized by low moods, inability to concentrate or sleep, agitation and anger, feelings of worthlessness and numbness, and feeling disconnected from one’s baby. Many parents deal with depressive feelings in the first few weeks after giving birth (the “baby blues”). In order to be diagnosed with PPD, your symptoms have to have lasted for at least two weeks.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder usually affects people in the fall and winter months as the days get darker and shorter and as the weather cools. The lack of sunlight is thought to be a major contributing factor to SAD.

Psychotic Depression

Psychotic depression is diagnosed when a person experiences the signs of major depression along with psychosis. Psychotic symptoms include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there) and delusions (false beliefs).

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is when women or people assigned female at birth experience depressive symptoms centered around their menstrual cycles. These symptoms usually occur several days before the menstrual cycle begins, and the first day or two of one’s period.

Symptoms

The signs of symptoms of depression will vary based on what type of depression you are experiencing. In addition, no two people will experience depression in exactly the same way. At the same time, there are some symptoms that are present in most types of depression and that can help you understand that it may be time to get help and support for the challenges you are facing.

Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:

Perhaps the most serious aspect of depression is that it can lead to suicidal ideation, self-harm, and suicide attempts. If you are experiencing thoughts of ending your life, you are not alone, and help is out there for you.

Here’s what you can do:

Causes

Most cases of depression aren’t caused by just one factor, but have several different causes—a perfect storm of factors, so to speak.

Some of the most common causes of depression involve:

Diagnosing Depression

In most cases, to be diagnosed with one of the different types of depression, you have to have experienced your symptoms for at least two weeks, and these symptoms have to have caused significant effects on your life.

Even if you aren’t sure whether you are experiencing depression or something else, it’s important to take any mental health disturbances seriously. It’s usually recommended that you first visit your general healthcare provider so that they can rule out any medical conditions that might be causing your symptoms.

If your healthcare provider suspects that you are experiencing depression, or another mental health disorder, they will likely refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist for further evaluation and to begin treatment.

Potential Treatment Paths

The good news is that as serious as depression can be, it’s treatable. Most cases of depression can be managed with psychotherapy, possible medication, and lifestyle changes.

Psychotherapy

Connecting with a licensed therapist is the first step in addressing your depression, whatever type you are challenged with. There are many different kinds of therapists out there; it’s helpful to find someone specifically trained to help manage depression. Some of the therapy modalities that treat depression include:

The best therapist for you is one who makes you feel safe and comfortable, who takes your concerns seriously, and who offers you supportive techniques for feeling better.

Medication

Certain medications can be helpful when it comes to managing depression. The medication type you use will be prescribed based on the type of depression you are dealing with. For example, people with major depressive disorder or postpartum depression will need different medication that people who have bipolar disorder or other disorders where depression isn’t the only symptom.

Usually, it’s best to combine medication with psychotherapy. You will need to get medication prescribed by either an MD or a psychiatrist. The most common types of medications used to treat depression are antidepressants, which may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

Lifestyle Changes

Simply changing aspects of your lifestyle usually isn’t enough to fully treat clinical depression, but when coupled with treatments like therapy and medication, they can be quite helpful. Some examples of lifestyle changes that can help with depression are:

The Bottom Line

Depression is a serious condition. Understanding what type of depression you are faced with is an important first step in understanding what is going on with you, and seeking the help you need to move forward and feel better. Remember, depression is treatable, and you deserve the help and support it takes to feel more like yourself again.

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About the author
Wendy Wisner Wendy Wisner, MFA, IBCLC

Wendy Wisner is a writer and lactation consultant (IBCLC) who covers maternal/child health, women’s health, general health and wellness, mental health, parenting, and education. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Family Circle, ABC News, Parents Magazine, Verywell, Fit Pregnancy, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine, and elsewhere.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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