An estimated that 16.2 million adults in the United States, or 6.7 percent of the adult population, have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year. Exploring different types of depression can be helpful as you build a better understanding of the symptoms you or your loved one may be experiencing. 

Major Depression 

Major depression (or major depressive disorder) affects how one feels, thinks, and behaves and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Some experience depression just once in their lifetime. Others have multiple episodes of it sporadically throughout theirs.  

The symptoms of major depression include: 

  • Extreme sadness

  • Lack of energy

  • Irritability

  • Changes in sleeping patterns

Major depressive disorder can develop at any age, but the median age at onset is 32.5 years old, and it is more prevalent in women than in men. 

Treatment plans for major depressive disorder usually involve medication, talk therapy, or a combination of the two. More and more, research suggests these treatments may normalize brain changes associated with depression.


Dysthymia (or Persistent Depressive Disorder) is a mood disorder similar to major depression but with milder systems that tend to last longer. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) characterizes dysthymia as chronic depression that lasts two or more years for adults or one year for children.

During this time, they may find it challenging to have an upbeat attitude even on happy occasions and engage in persistent complaining. They may struggle just to have fun. Since dysthymia is a chronic condition, it can eventually lead to major depression. Treatment for dysthymia is the same as Major Depressive Disorder. 

The long-term nature of dysthymia may mean this person ends up self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Substance use may mask these negative emotions in the short-term, but it can drastically disrupt a person's relationships, work, and daily activities.

Seasonal Affective Disorder  

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a mood disorder characterized by depression that occurs at the same time every year and is associated with variations of light. Most individuals affected by SAD experience symptoms beginning in the fall, and they continue throughout the winter months. 

People with this type of depression can experience a variety of symptoms during the winter when the days are shorter and have less sunlight. These symptoms include:

  • Anxiety

  • Mood swings

  • Overeating

  • Sleep problems

To receive a diagnose of SAD, someone must exhibit these symptoms over three consecutive winters. Treatment for SAD includes light therapy (phototherapy), medications, and psychotherapy.

Atypical Depression

With atypical depression, an individual experiences symptoms of depression. However, their mood can be briefly uplifted or brightened by a positive event. That differs from major depression and dysthymia, where an individual does not respond to pleasurable occasions.

Other key symptoms of atypical depression include: 

  • Increased appetite

  • Sleeping too much,

  • Feeling that your arms or legs are heavy

  • Experiencing a feeling of rejection

The low periods of atypical depression can become so severe that people feel as though life is not worth living.

Using alcohol or other addictive substances to self-medicate during depression can harmful and dangerous. Effective treatment options, like medication and psychotherapy, as well as lifestyle changes, can help manage depression and lead to meaningful recovery.