When people first experience depression, one of the first questions that come to mind might be, “Why am I sad?” This question helps us understand if our sadness comes from life circumstances or if it’s a sign of some biological change.
As depression develops and shows up more in our lives, we may learn about different kinds of depression. Thinking about what kind of depression you have can help you find the coping skills, medications, or treatments that may work best for you.
In this article, we go through different types of depression. Understanding each medical diagnosis can help you better understand your options and better prepare you to speak with a mental health professional.
Situational depression is when major changes in our lives cause us to feel symptoms of depression. These changes may include a job change, going to college, or leaving the military. Or loss of a loved one or loved thing (grief) or trauma (accident, attack, natural disaster). And you may develop depression symptoms like sadness or anxiety related to this life circumstance.
Your doctor or therapist might diagnose you with adjustment disorder. And your treatment would focus on how to recover from this life change. If you have adjustment disorder, the hope is that you feel better after relieving the stress related to this life circumstance. But for some situational depression can trigger major depression.
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the general diagnosis for depression. But it indicates a brain change that doesn’t go away over time—months and years. To get diagnosed with major depressive disorder or major depression, you must experience symptoms of depression almost all day, nearly every day, for at least 2 weeks. But it often lasts up to six months, and can sometimes last for several years. It also must be challenging enough to impact some part of your life—work, school, or relationships.
A doctor will also want to make sure that your symptoms are not due to a medical condition or substance use. This is to make sure you’re getting more appropriate or holistic care. If you are older than 6 but younger than 18 years old, a professional might diagnose you with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. This is to help see whether you’ll meet criteria for major depression or other mental health conditions. Also, people experiencing a really severe depressive episode can sometimes have psychotic symptoms. This is called major depression with psychosis and is not a separate type of depression.
About half of people who experience one episode of major depression will experience at least one more episode later in life.  Many of those people will experience multiple episodes of depression throughout their lives. Especially if their depression goes untreated.
If feelings do not go away on their own, it’s a good sign to start talking to a professional. Your body and mind may be experiencing changes that require more attention. Treatment for major depression includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is less severe than major depression, but it lasts longer. People with persistent depressive disorder experience depression symptoms most days for at least two years. But they don’t experience a major depressive episode during that time. If you have PDD, you may have been depressed for so long that you have a hard time even remembering what it’s like to not be depressed!
Persistent depressive disorder used to be called dysthymia. And you can still find a lot of information about it online by searching “dysthymia.”
Treatment for PDD can include therapy or medications. Therapy may help you explore thoughts and behaviors. Common therapy techniques for PDD include CBT, problem focused therapy, or behavior changes like behavioral activation.
During and after a pregnancy, hormones change a lot. Many people experience depression, anxiety, and paranoia after giving birth. These are symptoms of postpartum depression and can last anywhere from two weeks up to years.
It can be really distressing. People expect to feel happy when they are welcoming a new baby into their lives. But perinatal (during and after) depression is normal and common.
The person monitoring your birth—your obstetrician or midwife—should ask about mood or thought changes throughout your pregnancy. Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to help with postpartum depression. These may include mental health medications like psychotropic drugs or hormone treatment.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
People who experience premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) experience severe symptoms of depression in the week leading up to their period. And they feel better a few days after their period starts. If you have your period, you might also notice emotional changes in the middle of your cycle during ovulation.
PMDD might feel like an extreme emotional form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Treatment may include therapy or hormone treatment.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
Many people’s moods are affected by the seasons. When people experience more symptoms of depression during one part of the year, this is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Most people who have seasonal affective disorder get depressed in the winter, but a few people actually get more depressed in the summer. Treatment might include light therapy or vitamin D for winter SAD and therapy or medication for summer SAD.
Depression and bipolar disorder
Some people who experience an episode of major depression may also experience periods of high energy and impulsivity. This can signal a manic episode or mania. People with bipolar disorder experience alternating episodes of depression and mania. Bipolar disorder is different from being “moody.” Treatment for bipolar disorder often includes medication and therapy.
- Burcusa, S. L., & Iacono, W. G. (2007). Risk for recurrence in depression. Clinical psychology review, 27(8), 959–985. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2007.02.005
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
- American Psychiatric Association. What is Depression? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression