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Types of Depression and their symptoms

What exactly constitutes depression, what distinguishes it from normal low mood and what are the typical symptoms? Depression has many forms, here we discuss some of the more common types and how they can be distinguished from one another.

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People say the term ‘depression’ in daily use, while in psychiatric clinics the terms ‘depressive episode’ and ‘recurrent depression’ are used. Depending on the course and symptoms, depression can be differentiated into several distinct forms. 

In a depressive episode some of the typical depression symptoms occur for the first time and remain for at least two weeks. Recurrent depression is when a depressive episode recurs beyond the first time. 

Unipolar depression

This is the most common, classic form of depression. The depressive episode appears with typical symptoms such as low mood, exhaustion, joylessness, lack of motivation, loss of energy, self-doubt, and sometimes insomnia and loss of appetite. In addition, there can often be difficulties concentrating, a reduced sense of self-worth and self-confidence, hopelessness, and recurrent negative thoughts. In this case, the symptoms prevail for at least two weeks. Depending on how many symptoms arise and to which degree, it is categorized into mild, moderate, or severe depression. 


Dysthymia is a long-lasting form of depression. Here, the symptoms of depression occur to a lesser extent and are not as numerous. However, they manifest continually over a duration of more than two years. 

Adjustment disorders

Here depressive symptoms occur in response to a drastic life event and/or life changes. The symptoms are less numerous and don’t last as long as in recurrent depression or dysthymia. 

Bipolar depression

A bipolar disorder is an affective disorder in which mood, drive, and activity fluctuate greatly. Depressive moods as well as phases of euphoria occur here. Those affected transform from phases of low mood with typical depressive symptoms into suddenly high spirits with often heightened self-esteem, a growing propensity to consume, and reduced need for sleep. Many of those affected greatly underestimate their performance, speak very quickly and have an insatiable need to talk. They often lose control in dealing with  money or contracts; negative consequences of plans are simply dismissed or not considered. Delusions of being special, for example, and a sense of grandiosity, as well as hallucinations can occur during a manic episode.

In most affected individuals, however, the change from a depressive phase to a manic phase happens gradually. But sometimes it does supposedly happen over night. The changes between the phases is a great burden for individuals and those around them. Even more important is the rapid diagnosis and treatment - help is almost always possible. 

Other types

Depression can arise in many forms and situations. In particular, hormonal changes during  pregnancy can severely impact the body and mind, which can lead to what’s known as ‘postnatal depression’. These so-called ‘baby blues’ are short-lasting changes in mood and irritability, which generally arise shortly after the birth and which subside again after around two weeks. 

Depression can also be facilitated by the seasons. Many patients often suffer more mood reductions and increased tiredness in the darker seasons. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is associated with low daily hours of sunlight. In dimness and darkness, the brain produces the sleeping hormone melatonin, which leads to tiredness and lack of energy and is often connected to loss of motivation and low mood. 

General symptoms

According to the definition, depression is characterized by a long lasting state of low mood. Besides the feelings of sadness, symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, inner unrest, loss of appetite, concentration and memory issues, reduced self-esteem, a tendency to overthink (rumination), feelings of guilt, or physical complaints (e.g. stomach pain). 

Many individuals also experience a feeling of hopelessness, a loss of meaning which in extreme forms can manifest itself as suicidal tendencies. Severely depressed people experience their life as no longer worth living and see death as the best solution. In depression, changes in the brain’s neurotransmitter system occur. Hormonal changes can also be seen. Depression is a severe condition and it’s imperative it is treated by a doctor and/or therapist. 

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