Types of depression and causes

There are three basic types of depression:

  • Major depression, also called unipolar depression, which is the most common type of depression. It tends to be episodic, but can persistently recur. Symptoms must persist for at least two weeks.
  • Dysthymia, which is a chronic, unremitting depression. A dysthymia diagnosis requires fewer symptoms than major depression, but must be present for at least two years.
  • Bipolar disorder, also called manic depression, which is depression alternating with elated or irritable moods and increased energy.

Major depression and dysthymia is twice as prevalent among women than men: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men will experience these types of depression at some point in their lives.

Many factors can cause depression, including biochemistry (a chemical imbalance of mood regulation in the brain), genetics, family history, substance abuse, and an illness or other difficult life events. Some people have mild depression, while in others depression is more severe.

Getting treatment

Regardless of the cause, a person should be treated for depression. One-half of people with depression do not seek treatment because they don't understand their symptoms or have fear of the stigma of mental illness. Yet of those who do, 80% are treated effectively with medication, psychotherapy, or both.

It is important to seek medical help early because:

  • Untreated depression is long lasting. A depressive episode, left untreated, can last six months, or chronically for years.
  • Depression is likely to recur. If a person experiences a single episode of depression, there is a 50% chance of having another. The chance of recurrence is 70% after two episodes and 90% after three episodes.
  • Depression can lead to suicide. Depression is the leading cause of suicide, and a suicide occurs every 17 minutes in the United States.



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