What Are the Four Types of Depression?

What Is Depression?

The four types of depression are situational, biological, psychological and existential, each of which has its own primary causes. These classifications often overlap and are meant to add insight to diagnosis and treatment.
The four types of depression are situational, biological, psychological and existential, each of which has its own primary causes. These classifications often overlap and are meant to add insight to diagnosis and treatment.

Depression (also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a mood disorder that negatively affects how a person feels, thinks, acts, and handles daily activities. 

Sadness and grief are not the same as depression. While sadness and grief share some characteristics with depression, they are not the same. 

There are several types of depression: 

  • Situational depression
    • Intense sadness in response to negative events or isolating situations 
    • Very common
    • These feelings are normal most of the time, but if they do not go away after a few weeks, or a person feels suicidal, it may be one of the other types of depression
  • Biological depression
    • Depression starts due to an imbalance in neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and norepinephrine) or hormones (such as estrogen, progesterone, and thyroxine) that affect mood and physiology
    • Depression can be an indirect result of these biochemical changes
    • This can make daily activities difficult, and as things become more stressful, patterns of negative thinking and low self-esteem occur
  • Psychological depression
    • Linked to psychological factors, such as unrealistic expectations, loss of perspective, negative self-talk, and dysfunctional relationships
  • Existential depression
    • May be triggered by a positive event, i.e., something a person has been looking forward to for a long time
    • People may believe attaining the goal will provide meaning to their life and a state of peace and well-being
    • When the expected joy or satisfaction does not occur, people may feel they wasted their time, and if that achievement could not bring meaning to their life, what will? 
    • People may question everything they once believed

What Are Symptoms of Depression?

Symptoms of depression may include: 

  • Persistent sadness, anxiety, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that you once enjoyed
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Restlessness or difficulty sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight 
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
    • If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org 


Learn to Spot Depression: Symptoms, Warning Signs, Medication See Slideshow

What Causes Depression?

Depression may be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Risk factors include:

  • Genetics: depression can run in families
  • Personality: people who are easily overwhelmed, are pessimistic, or have low self-esteem are more likely to suffer from depression
  • Environmental factors: exposure to neglect, violence, poverty, or other trauma
  • Major life changes
  • Brain changes: differences in neurotransmitters or hormones, as well as activity in parts of the brain can contribute to symptoms
  • Certain serious physical or comorbid mental illnesses 
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Certain medications

How Is Depression Diagnosed?

To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms of depression (as listed above) must last at least two weeks and be a change in a person’s previous level of functioning.

What Is the Treatment for Depression?

Even the most severe cases of depression can be treated, though it can take some trial and error to find the right treatment for each patient. 

Treatments for depression include: 

  • Medications
  • Psychotherapies
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
    • Problem-solving therapy
  • Brain stimulation therapies
    • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) 
    • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) 
    • Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS)
  • Light therapy
    • Uses a light box to expose a person to full spectrum light in an effort to regulate the hormone melatonin
  • Alternative approaches 

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