Definitions and Types of Depression

The term depression covers a wide range of experiences and illnesses, from mild to severe, transient to persistent.  Medical classifications and terms are:



  • Major depressive disorder – this is more severe and is diagnosed by the person feeling five or more of the symptoms of depression, lasting over two weeks.
  • Adjustment disorder – these are milder and shorter-lived forms of depression, often resulting from stressful experiences.
  • Dysthymia – covers long-term symptoms of depression (of at least two years) which are not severe enough to meet the criteria for major depression.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – which is depression associated with lack of daylight and shorter daylight hours in wint.


 Bi-polar disorder (also sometimes called manic depression, or bipolar affective disorder).

A distinction should be made between the forms of depression which are ‘unipolar’ including major depression, dysthymia, SAD, and post-natal depression, and ‘bipolar’ disorder or manic depression. Bipolar depression is a serious mental health problem involving extreme swings of mood (highs and lows).  This form of depression occurs in bouts, separated by periods of mania (highs), in which the person may become psychotic and lose touch with reality.

  • A persistent “low” mood, with difficult feelings such as guilt, anxiety, sadness,
    losing interest or pleasure in things, low self-esteem;
    difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much;
    tiredness, fatigue;
    changes to appetite, and perhaps loss or gain of weight;
    difficulty in thinking or concentrating;
    recurrent thoughts of death or suicide attempt.
  • Depression can be due to a shortage of certain chemicals (serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine) in the brain, which can be triggered in some people by stress.
  • The presentation of depression, its meanings and how it is experienced, vary according to culture.  The western experience of depression, outlined above, may not hold for people of Asian, Caribbean or other cultures.
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