Spoonie Musings is a platform for discussion about the realities of living with chronic illness and mental illness.

On "Depression" As An Umbrella Term

On "Depression" As An Umbrella Term

            “Depression” is a term that is thrown around often during conversations about mental illness. Many people, however, do not know what it means. While “depression” is often used as an umbrella term for all disorders involving a persistently low mood, in actuality, “depression” is inclusive of several conditions that all manifest differently and that encompass various levels of severity.

            Depression can be mild enough that it can be managed with life style changes alone.  Depression can be severe enough that hospitalization is required to treat it. Some people with depression do not require any medication. Some people with depression require long-term therapy. Some people with depression can manage their condition with antidepressants. Some people with depression need stronger drugs like antipsychotics. Depression can be chronic, such as in the case of Persistent Depressive Disorder (formerly called dysthymia) [1]. Depression can be intermittent and come in episodes, such as in Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) [2] and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) [3]. Depression can be a symptom of a more general psychiatric disorder, such as Bipolar Disorder [4] or Schizoaffective Disorder [5]. Depression can be severe enough to cause psychosis [6]. Depression can be situational. Depression can be chemical.

            Some people with depression only experience one or a few depressive episodes in their lifetimes. Some people with depression experience many episodes. Some people experience “Double Depression” when they have both a depressive disorder that lasts for years, such as Persistent Depressive Disorder, and a comorbid depressive disorder that manifests during certain periods, such as Major Depressive Disorder [7]. Some people with depression only carry a diagnosis of a depressive disorder. Some people with depression carry comorbid diagnoses of anxiety disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse, or neurodevelopmental disorders.

            Major Depressive Disorder alone has several symptoms, including: irritability, loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, sleep disturbances, weight changes, fatigue, guilt, feelings of punishment, concentration difficulties, and suicidal ideation [8]. A patient does not have to experience every symptom to receive a diagnosis of depression. Other depressive disorders have additional criteria that a patient must meet before qualifying for a diagnosis. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), for example, is diagnosed when depressive symptoms occur preceding a patient’s menstrual cycle [9]. Seasonal Affective Disorder is diagnosed when a patient experiences depressive symptoms during certain times of the year, especially during the winter months [3]. Bipolar depression is diagnosed when a patient also has a history of experiencing hypomania or mania [4].

            I hope that you gain from this that depression comes in many forms and that a diagnosis of depression can encompass a wide range of severity. Just because you personally have depression, or know someone who has experienced depression, you cannot claim to understand the experiences of everyone who has depression. If a friend or loved one confides in you that they are experiencing serious issues because of depression, try to listen to them and take their concerns seriously. Do not write it off as “just depression.”


[1] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/persistent-depressive-disorder/symptoms-causes/dxc-20166596

[2] http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/major-depression#1

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Seasonal-affective-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[4] http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/bipolar-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[5] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizoaffective-disorder/home/ovc-20258872

[6] http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/psychotic-depression#1

[7] http://www.webmd.com/depression/double-depression#1

[8] https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/major-depression/mdd-dsm-criteria-for-major-depressive-disorder/

[9] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007193.htm




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