Types of Depression & Available Treatments

Although people with depression may exhibit many of the same symptoms, thoughts and feelings, there are actually several different types of depression. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms to make a proper diagnosis. Each type of depression has different patterns, triggers, diagnostic criteria and treatment methods.

Major Depression, which affects about 25% of people at least once in their lifetime, interferes with one’s ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy once pleasurable activities. Many common life changes can trigger major depression, such as losing a loved one (death, divorce, break-ups), fighting with someone, moving, graduating, changing careers, and retiring. Abuse (physical, mental or sexual) and social isolation are also common causes. Antidepressant medication and talk therapy are common treatments for this form of depression.

Chronic Depression, also called dysthymia, is a relatively mild but chronic form of depression that affects over 10 million Americans. People with chronic depression are able to function in their daily lives, but have extreme difficulty finding pleasure in normal activities, and experience feelings of sadness and emptiness that may persist for years. Some people with chronic depression find talk therapy alone to be effective, but antidepressant medications can also help.

Double Depression describes the condition of a person who experiences both major depression and chronic depression at the same time. Typically, people with double depression experience a bout of major depression for a while, followed by the milder chronic depression.

Seasonal Depression, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, typically occurs during the colder, darker months (but can rarely occur during the summer). People with SAD experience depressive symptoms at the same time each year. Treatment can involve talk therapy, antidepressants, and light therapy. Lifestyle changes can also prevent the onset of SAD.

Other serious forms of depression that are less common include manic depression (bipolar disorder), psychotic depression (depression accompanied by hallucinations and delusions), and postpartum depression.

No matter what form your depression takes, talk with your health care provider to find the best treatment plan for you.

Treatment Options for Depression

Your doctor will likely try a combination of methods to treat your depression. Discuss the following treatment options with your doctor to find out what will work best for you. A combination of medication and therapy is the most common treatment method.

There are several different types of antidepressant medications, and they all work a little differently. It will take a few weeks for a medication to take effect and for your doctor to find the best dosage for you—to maximize benefits and minimize side effects. Whatever medication you use, be sure to follow the directions closely. Some require dietary changes to avoid food-drug interaction, for example. Once you start feeling better, you may think you no longer need your medication. But you should never change your dosage or discontinue using antidepressants until your doctor explains how to do so safely while also preventing a recurrence of symptoms.

Psychotherapy, or "talk therapy," is one of the most common treatment methods for depression. By talking with a qualified mental health professional, you'll learn about the behaviors, events, situations, and problems that contribute to your depression, find ways to cope with these factors, and regain control over your life and happiness. Several different types of psychotherapy exist, from one-on-one to group therapy. Just as you may try a few types of medication before you find the best fit for you, the same is true of psychotherapies (and therapists).

Alternative Therapies
While alternative therapies show promise, they are most effective when combined with medication and psychotherapy. Your doctor may also suggest the following options, in conjunction with your medication or therapy plan.  *Please note that even though alternatives may seem safe and "natural," they too can have negative side effects. Always discuss alternative therapies with your doctor before trying them on your own:
  • Herbal supplements, such as St. John's Wort
  • Acupuncture, acupressure, or aromatherapy
  • Dietary changes or nutritional supplements
  • Exercise, such as walking or yoga
  • Electroconvulsive therapy, a last resort for severe depression that doesn't respond to conventional treatment
Remember that depression is a serious medical condition, not a sign of weakness. Most people cannot overcome depression without medical intervention. Luckily, more treatment options (with fewer side effects) are available today than ever before. Because depression is complex, the first treatment you try might not do the trick. Be persistent and continue visiting your doctor until you find the best form of treatment to help you live a fulfilling, productive life.