This serious mental health condition isn't one-size-fits-all.

By Mara Santilli
Jul 14, 2021 @ 5:00 pm
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Types of Depression
Credit: Caleb MacKenzie Gaskins/Stocksy

So, chances are you ended up here because you're experiencing what feels like some type of depression yourself, or someone you love is going through it and you want to be there for them. Regardless of the reason, the absolute fact of the matter is that you, or your friend or loved one, are not alone. 

About 9.5% of adults over 18 in the U.S. experience a depressive illness each year (and that's just the people who have reported it). Clinical depression affects 1 in 8 women, and certain types of depression may also specifically affect people who have periods or give birth. 

The fact is, there are so many different types of depression — and you might even experience more than one at the same time or at separate points in your life. While it's helpful to understand the spectrum of depression before you can work through it, that doesn't mean you'll be able to come up with a diagnosis on your own. "It is important to seek a licensed mental health provider to accurately diagnose the symptoms," says Nicole Cammack, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, president, and CEO of Black Mental Wellness and Clinical Advisory Board Executive of Sesh. "Remember that individuals may experience depression and depressive symptoms in different ways, and that online resources alone may not capture the fullness of your symptoms and are not enough to identify a concern."

Here, we break down the symptoms of some of the most common types of depression you should know about — plus potential treatment options a professional can provide.

1. Major Depressive Disorder 

If you notice a significant change in how you're feeling over at least a two-week period, you could be experiencing Major Depressive Disorder, Dr. Cammack says. It may affect your behavior at work (or WFH), school, or in your relationships with others, she adds. Of course, feeling sad or down are key symptoms, but Major Depressive Disorder might have more subtle signs, including loss of interest in simple things that are usually enjoyable for you, like getting your hair or nails done, or playing sports. It might affect your ability to sleep or to wake up, along with your eating habits and general pace of your day, which is something you might notice over time. 

You could also be dealing with thoughts of self-harm, in which case you should definitely seek treatment from a mental health professional. 

2. Persistent Depressive Disorder 

Persistent Depressive Disorder is similar to Major Depressive Disorder, but the time period differs — PDD endures for at least two years. "Essentially, a person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder will have felt significantly depressed for most of their days, nearly every day, most of the time, for at least two years, and has not experienced a lapse of symptoms for more than two months," explains Amber Petrozziello, LMHC, a counselor at Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York City. 

You might be coping with symptoms such as a dip in mood or energy, increased feelings of isolation or hopelessness, difficulty making decisions, and some physical symptoms like changes in appetite or sleep, over a long period of time. A mental health professional can evaluate you for PDD and how well you're coping in your daily life, but this doesn't present the same for everyone. "What may be 'functioning' for me might be different for someone else, and so it's important that we take into account our clients, friends and families' individual experiences," Petrozziello says.  

3. Seasonal Affective Disorder

As soon as summer officially ends and the sunsets each night start to get earlier and earlier, you may notice your mood drop, too. It could be that you're dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder and might not have even realized. The symptoms are actually pretty similar to Major Depressive Disorder, Dr. Cammack says, but they'll typically hit you during the chilly fall and winter months, which are notorious for having such little sunlight (hence why people with SAD often use light therapy lamps as a therapeutic practice). Seasonal depressive symptoms can look like low energy, low mood, restlessness, or loss of motivation or concentration, and changes in your appetite or sleep. But despite how casually SAD is thrown around, it be as serious as serious of thoughts of self-harm or death, adds Dr. Cammack. 

If you tend to feel better once the spring weather starts up again, it could be a sign that what you're dealing with is Seasonal Affective Disorder. "As the seasons change and the hours of sunlight increase again, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder will usually notice an improvement in their symptoms during the spring," Dr. Cammack says. 

4. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

If you think you might be experiencing extreme PMS before getting your period each month, that may not necessarily be the case. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD, is not actually a type of PMS, but a type of depression. And it affects about 8% of menstruators. 

You could have PMDD if you have depressive thoughts, severe mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or anger, in the week right before your period. There are some common physical symptoms too, like loss of appetite, joint pain, bloating, and even insomnia. One sign of PMDD is that the symptoms go away as soon as your period arrives. 

For a PMDD diagnosis, there are a few treatment options, including hormonal birth control and antidepressant medications, which are often coupled with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

5. Postpartum Depression

It's even more common than you think for new parents to experience a perinatal mood disorder, including postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD, and postpartum depression — this happens to 15 to 20% of people. Because of the dip in pregnancy hormones immediately after giving birth, you could feel some perinatal moodiness or sadness (and in fact, about 7 or 8 in 10 people do). 

Postpartum depression is a bit more intense in terms of symptoms, which might show up any time between birth and the first 12 months postpartum: You may have feelings of anger, guilt, irritability, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and in some cases, thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby. 

While the standard is one postpartum visit four to six weeks after birth, many experts believe more regular perinatal visits would be helpful in both screening for postpartum mood disorders and working on a treatment plan for them.

6. Bipolar Depression 

Bipolar depression is a serious type of depression that affects many people differently, especially people with predominantly female hormones in their bodies. "Studies show that women are more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, have later onset [of bipolar depression], and present more seasonally," Petrozziello says. This can seriously impact your social life and your presence at school or work. Withdrawing from friends or family, irritability, and other habits like bingeing social media, spending more time in bed, and loss of energy to engage in social activities are all common, explains Petrozziello. 

Bipolar disorder and bipolar depression can intensify over time, so if you think you might be experiencing symptoms, you should seek a diagnosis and treatment immediately. 

7. Situational Depression

It's safe to say that the trauma and grief of the pandemic has had serious impacts on our collective mental health, and for some this might mean situation depression. "It will be hard to determine if situational depression may be more prevalent, since we are still in the midst of transitioning to being outside more, being able to be with more people, and being able to travel and go to work in person again," Petrozziello says. So what exactly is situational depression? It's a mental reaction to a life stressor, change, or event, within a three-month period of that event. Some examples of these types of events could be a friend moving, a divorce, a sudden accident, or even something that would traditionally be seen as a positive life change, like a new job.  

"Symptoms for situational depression are generally less intense than in clinical depression such as Persistent Depressive Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder," says Petrozziello. But that doesn't make them any less difficult: You may have an uptick in anxiety and stress, crying episodes, listlessness, and withdrawal from normal activities, or your friends and family, all of which can be scary to cope with. 

There are additional stressors and traumas for people who live in Black bodies, including experiencing or witnessing racial discrimination, trauma, or microaggresions. "For example, a week following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, data collected by the Census Bureau suggested that Black Americans who reported significant signs of anxiety or depression experienced an incease in symptoms," Dr. Cammack says. Traumatic events like this could contribute to situational depression or more prolonged depressive symptoms, which may result in a Major Depressive Disorder or Persistent Depressive Disorder diagnosis. However, Dr. Cammack points out, "Only one in three Black adults who report mental health concerns will actually receive treatment, further contributing to health disparities and increase in severity of depressive symptoms." 

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.