The Causes and Subtypes of Major Depression
Health July 31, 2018

The Causes and Subtypes of Major Depression

The American Psychiatric Association defines major depression as a medical illness that has negatively affects on how a patient thinks, acts, and feels. Depression can affect patients very differently. For instance, it’s typically diagnosed via a combination of symptoms that can include social withdrawal, mental and physical fatigue, loss of or increased appetite, sleep issues, extreme sadness, apathy towards hobbies and activities the patient was once passionate about, harmful or suicidal thoughts, and mood swings, which all impeded daily life (i.e., work, school personal relationships, etc.).

Just as symptoms of depression can vary, so can the various causes of depression, for instance it may stem from:

  • Genetics (or if depression exists among parents, siblings, or offspring).
  • Chronic illness (i.e., cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia).
  • Socioeconomic reasons (i.e., a job loss).
  • Socio-personal factors (i.e., death of a loved one).

However, despite many correlative symptoms between patients, depression is a complicated illness that occurs in many forms, or subtypes that fall under these medical classifications:

1. Seasonal affective disorder
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, often occurs with seasonal change. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, SAD is most prevalent during the late fall and winter when sunlight (or naturally-sourced vitamin D) is limited. While some counselling and medication may be prescribed for severe cases, mild cases of SAD may be relieved with light therapy.

2. Bipolar depression
Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by severe changes in behavior, energy levels, and mood. For instance, patients often transition from periods of extreme depression (low) to mania (high) for durations that can last days, weeks, or even months at a time. Manic periods often feature extreme, compulsive actions (i.e., shopping sprees or suddenly quitting a job), where depressive episodes can be marked by self-loathing and fatigue that keeps the patient confined to bed. Most bipolar symptoms crop up in teenage or young adult patients, and can be successfully treated with ongoing psychotherapy, support groups, and prescription medication.

3. Dysthymia
Also known as chronic depression, dysthymia is persistent depressive disorder, meaning depressive symptoms—including loss of interest, low self-esteem, withdrawal from daily life, negative thoughts, and hopelessness—persist over the long-term. So much so that these symptoms can greatly impact work or school life, social life, and personal relationships. Coping with chronic depressive disorder is very difficult, however psychotherapy combined with medication can help.

4. Postpartum depression
This depression subtype is most common in among new mothers (every one in 7) in the days or weeks following childbirth. However, new parents of both genders may experience symptoms of postpartum depression (i.e., feelings of extreme joy paired with sadness, crying bouts and anxiety), according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Postpartum depression (PPD) is usually the result of severe hormonal changes that occur after birth. Untreated PPD can be severe and longterm, affecting a new mother’s ability to perform child rearing and daily tasks.

5. Major depressive disorder
Patients who suffer from major depressive disorder suffer from a series of debilitating symptoms that often make it difficult for them to lead full, healthy lives (i.e., go to school, work, sleep or eat, or have a normal social life). For instance, major depression often recurs throughout a patient’s lifetime, leaving them feeling hopeless, apathetic to once enjoyable pastimes, and despondent. According to research published by the Journal of American Medical Association, major depressive disorder most often impacts female patients concurrently with another chronic illness (i.e., heart attack) or mental condition (i.e., postpartum depression). Major depression is usually treated via a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy) and prescription medication.

6. Psychotic depression
Psychotic depression makes up 20% of patients with major depression. It’s medically characterized as a combination of major depressive disorder paired with psychotic features (i.e., hallucinations and unrealistic delusions) that cause patients to break from reality and believe, here, or see things that don’t exist. Patients prone to psychotic depression have typically suffered from another subtype of depression in their past. Severe trauma can also trigger the delusions and hallucinations that characterize psychotic depression. Patients with psychotic depression may be a danger to themselves, which means immediate treatment and close supervision by a mental health professional is imperative.