Depressive Disorders and Their Symptoms

Understanding Depression

Depression is an umbrella term for the group of conditions associated with persistent low mood. While low moods can be normal on occasion, depression may be considered when it begins impairing day to day life. Depressive disorders can affect people of all ages, and there is more than one way to experience depression.

Clinical depression is a common standalone condition, but it may present itself as a symptom of another disorder. When depression occurs as a symptom, it may be associated with substance-use disorders, bipolar disorder or addiction.

Depression may be the result of or triggered by the following:

Types of Depressive Disorders

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Those experiencing major depressive disorder often demonstrate persistently low moods, loss of interest in things they usually like to do, decreased self-esteem and lack of energy. They may also experience a loss of appetite, insomnia, difficulty concentrating or suicidal thoughts. People with major depression often report feelings of worthlessness or guilt, regardless of their environment or daily activities.

Common symptoms of major depression include:

  • Persistent low mood
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Changes in appetite (weight gain or loss)
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thought

Major depression varies in length depending on personal risk factors. It may last anywhere from weeks to months.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia, is defined as depression lasting for two or more years. It can affect a person at any time in their lives, but symptoms commonly develop in adolescence. A person with persistent depressive disorder may display symptoms of continual gloominess, pessimism, fatigue, lack of socialization and criticalness.

Persistent depressive disorder may be diagnosed in a person experiencing the following:

  • Fatigue, low energy
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is recurrent and correlates with the menstrual cycle. In the premenstrual phase, typical symptoms consist of mood swings or anxiety, emotional outbursts, difficulty sleeping and appetite changes. PMDD symptoms manifest similarly but are more intense.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder may be diagnosed in a person experiencing the following:

  • Intense mood swings
  • Irritability, anger, or emotional outbursts
  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite (cravings, overeating)
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Physical symptoms (sore muscles, bloating, weight gain or joint pain)

Other Disorders

Various disorders may correlate with depression or depressive episodes. Substance use, prolonged or severe anxiety, seasonal factors, during or after pregnancy (postpartum depression) are often associated with the onset of depressive symptoms.

Postpartum Depression (PPD)

Postpartum depression and anxiety occur after giving birth and can increase the likelihood of developing major depressive disorder later on. Any life change can be difficult to cope with, including childbirth. Symptoms may include changes in appetite, insomnia, difficulty bonding, irritability, anxiety and fatigue.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

While technically a mood disorder, seasonal affective disorder can result in depressive episodes or depression-like symptoms. SAD often occurs during the fall and winter months when there is lack of sunlight and activity. People with SAD may experience fatigue, lack of interest in socialization or pleasurable activities, feelings of loneliness or hopelessness and depression.

What Depression May Look Like

Like any other mental illness, symptoms or signs of depression may vary depending on the person and type of disorder. Symptoms may present similarly to other conditions, which is why it’s important to see a licensed mental health professional to receive a proper diagnosis.

People with depression may experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Persistent low mood
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and sadness
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities and hobbies
  • Low energy, fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical aches and soreness (headaches, cramping or digestive issues)
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depression may also increase the likelihood of substance use, impulsive behavior and isolation from family and friends.

Risk Factors

People with any of the following may be at increased risk for depression or a depressive disorder:

  • Family history (if any family members have mental health conditions)
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Poor diet
  • Medication and substance use
  • Chronic stress or anxiety
  • Lack of social or familial support
  • Limited access to resources (food, shelter, basic needs)

Depression Treatment

Treatment for depression is dependent on the needs of a person who is depressed. Speaking to a mental health professional is the first step in finding out what might work best for you. Treatment options may include:


  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – Talk therapy focused on changing negative thoughts and behaviors caused by psychological distress
  • Psychotherapy – General talk therapy for mental or behavioral disorders
  • Interpersonal therapy – Attachment-focused psychotherapy that focuses on resolving interpersonal issues and easing mental health symptoms

Types of treatment and therapeutic approaches may be combined in order to meet your needs.


For some, a proper treatment plan may require taking medication. Antidepressant medications are commonly used to treat persistent symptoms. Side effects of antidepressant medication may vary, and finding the right one may take some trial and error.

Support Groups For Depression

There are many different kinds of support groups and joining one can have many benefits. Support groups can be a comforting space for those who feel alone in their struggles with mental health issues like depressive disorders.

Being able to connect with others over a shared behavior or issue can help to lessen the burden and shame. In support group meetings, a person may be able to learn new way of coping and helpful tips from other group members while also building a sense of community.