No two people experience depression in quite the same way. For some, depression is what we expect it to be—an overwhelming feeling of misery and hopelessness. For many more, however, the key symptoms are anger, irritability and fatigue. Depression itself takes many different forms. Here are some of the more common ones:
Clinical depression, or major depression, is the most common form of depression. The list of possible symptoms is lengthy. If any five of the following conditions are met over the course of a two-week period, and they represent a change from the patient’s normal personality, then the likelihood of clinical depression is high:
-feeling of sadness or emptiness
-lack of interest in daily activities
-weight loss or weight gain
-insomnia or, conversely, excessive sleepiness
-lack of energy
[Adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition)]
Bipolar depression, or bipolar disorder, is a biochemical disorder. It’s also called “manic depression.” A person suffering from bipolar depression experiences depression coupled with manic episodes. The swing from depression into the manic episode is quite marked, and at either pole of emotion the sufferer feels out of control. Manic episodes may last for days, weeks, or even months. In some extreme cases, a patient may switch between mania and depression several times a day.
Behaviors during manic episodes vary from euphoria to irritability. Some people experience manic episodes that are characterized by wild swings in thinking, excessive gaiety, exaggerated sexuality, or decreased sleep.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder is sometimes called “winter depression.” Studies have confirmed that a lack of bright light affects the brain’s chemistry. Most people find they’re a little lethargic or eat more in the winter. SAD sufferers’ reactions to weather changes are more extreme, resulting in many of the same symptoms as depression. With spring, and brighter light, the seasonal affective disorder goes into remission until the next winter.
Regardless of the type of depression, all respond well to treatment. Clinical depression usually responds to a combination of drug therapy and psychological counseling. Bipolar or manic depression often requires lifelong medication, but that’s a small price to pay for leading a healthier, happier life. As for seasonal affective disorder, a therapeutic “light box” helps the brain receive the bright light it needs.
A medical diagnosis and trained professionals are, of course, essential when treating depression.