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What is clinical depression?

Get helpful insight into the various forms of clinical depression.

Postpartum depression affects nearly ten percent of new mothers. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Postpartum depression affects nearly ten percent of new mothers.

While many different institutions have their own definition for clinical depression, both the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health agree that its most crucial characteristics are the severity and longevity of the depression.

Definition of Clinical Depression

Clinical depression is different from normal feelings of sadness or stress in that it persists or intensifies over the course of several weeks, and is not alleviated by engaging in activities that were once enjoyable. Also unlike most periods of depression, stressful or upsetting situations or events do not necessarily trigger clinical depression.

Clinical Depression Symptoms

This kind of depression can take many different forms, but all types show some combination of physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms. Physical symptoms include sleep disturbances, changes in appetite or eating, fatigue, headaches, stomachaches, digestive problems and other physical problems that aren’t the result of existing conditions and don’t respond to normal treatment. Behavioral symptoms include a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, memory problems, decision-making problems, unusual irresponsibility and neglect of personal appearance. Emotional symptoms can include a persistent sadness lasting more than two weeks, guilt, hopelessness, irritability, anxiety and thoughts of death or suicide.

Forms of Clinical Depression

Some of the forms that clinical depression can take include:

  • Major depression: Individuals with major depression show a combination of the symptoms described above in a form serious enough to interfere with their abilities to work and take pleasure from their lives. Episodes of major depression may occur once or several times in the course of one’s lifetime.
  • Dysthymia: The symptoms in this form of depression are less intense but chronic, and keep individuals from functioning at their full ability and from feeling well over an extended period of time.
  • Bipolar disorder (or manic depression): In this condition, the symptoms of depression alternate with periods of elation and increased activity called mania.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): The characteristic that sets SAD apart from other forms of depression is when it occurs -– typically beginning in autumn, continuing through winter and ending in spring -– rather than any combination of symptoms. SAD can be either unipolar, with depressive symptoms only, or bipolar, with a combination of depressive and manic symptoms.
  • Postpartum Depression: The so-called “baby blues” are common among new mothers. Symptoms include increased sadness, mood swings, loneliness and irritability. Postpartum depression, also called peripartum depression, is a much more severe form of this condition. The symptoms are similar to those of major depression.

All forms of clinical depression should receive treatment from a healthcare professional. Patients or family members should not simply wait for these feelings to pass.

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