July 13, 2024

Atypical Depression

Atypical Depression often carries many of the same symptoms as major depression.  The main difference is that this type of depression does not require the same number of diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis.

Patients with this Atypical Depression often report an increased appetite, a change in sleep patterns or an increased sensitivity to the feelings of others.  Many of the people who have Atypical Depression often first began to experience symptoms during their teenage years.

Overall, doctors think that this form of depression is underdiagnosed in patients.

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Atypical Depression

To be diagnosed with Atypical Depression, patients must exhibit at least five out of the nine symptoms associated with it.  One of the biggest differences between Atypical Depression and Major Depression is the patient’s ability to react to positive events.  During episodes of Major Depression, a patient is not able to react positively to positive events.  With Atypical Depression, the patient’s mood will brighten when a positive event occurs.

In order to ensure that the patient is correctly diagnosed, the doctor will normally run a battery of tests.  One disorder they commonly test for is hypothyroidism.  Hypothyroidism often causes depression-like symptoms and weight gain.  If this disorder is not ruled out, the patient may be misdiagnosed.

Once all other possibilities are ruled out, the doctor will assess the patient’s symptoms.  If they have at least five of the following symptoms, the doctor may diagnose them with Atypical Depression.


  • An overwhelming feeling of sadness throughout the day
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts
  • Lack of enjoyment in former pastimes and hobbies the patient once liked
  • Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness
  • Gain or loss of at least five percent of the patient’s body weight or increased appetite
  • Fatigue or a general lack of energy
  • Episodes of insomnia or changes in sleep patterns
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

Patients may also have a heightened sensitivity to the reactions of others.  They may overreact to any signs of rejection and may experience workplace problems or social difficulties because of this.  Throughout their daily life, patients might feel like their body is weighed down or it may seem paralyzed.

If an individual is experiencing these symptoms, they should seek medical help to discern the cause.  With proper help, the patient can be treated for Atypical Depression and return to their normal life.

Causes of Atypical Depression

Scientists think that depression is caused by some kind of chemical imbalance in the mind.  These chemicals – known as neurotransmitter – send messages between brain cells using norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin.  If these chemicals become out of balance, the patient may begin to experience signs of depression.  As individuals age or undergo serious illnesses, these neurotransmitters may stop functioning properly on their own.

In other cases, the Atypical Depression may be caused by other environmental and genetic factors.

Typically, patients will have a family history of depression or a history of alcohol and drug abuse.  The alcohol and drug abuse may have occurred prior to the start of their depression or be concurrently used as a means of self-medicating.  Events in the patient’s life may have served as a trigger for their depression.  A recent loss like a death, separation or divorce may have resulted in an unending feeling of grief that caused the resulting depression.  In other cases, patients with Atypical Depression may have experienced some kind of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

Illnesses like cancer, heart disease or HIV can serve as catalysts for depressive episodes.  Additionally, interpersonal conflicts or some kind of exclusion from family and friends may bring on feelings of depression.  In essence, any kind of life event that ranges from a move, lost job or college graduation can cause a person to develop Atypical Depression.

Treatment Options and Prognosis for Atypical Depression

After consulting with a doctor, the patient will begin to undergo some form of therapy or medication regimen to treat their Atypical Depression.  Often, patients will receive therapy to address any underlying problems that led to their depression.

Since major life changes can serve as a catalyst for depressive episodes, therapy will try to address these causes.  For example, if the patient is experiencing difficulties at work the therapist may recommend that they find a career field that they enjoy more.

Therapy may also address the way the patient views the world.  After dealing with depression, a patient may develop negative ways of thinking about events and people in their life.  By using Cognitive Behavior Therapy, the patient can learn how to change their behavior and attitudes in a positive way.  Instead of viewing life events as a source of negative emotions, the patient will work with a therapist to develop an optimistic view of life.

In some cases, the doctor may choose to prescribe medication.  Generally, the medication will be some form of antidepressant that seeks to correct serotonin levels in the brain.  Since serotonin is believed to be the chemical responsible for good moods, correcting any imbalances can result in a more positive attitude for patients.

Most cases of Atypical Depression that have received treatment will recover fully.

yoga and depression exerciseTo prevent a relapse, the doctor may recommend that patients begin exercising, eating healthy and continue therapy.  In numerous studies, exercise has been shown to increase endorphin levels.  As a positive mood enhance, endorphins can help a patient to retain a happier mentality.  Developing a focus on fitness can also help former patients with Atypical Depression to lose the weight they gained while they were depressed.

A healthy lifestyle has been shown to enhance a person’s attitude and can be a key tool as patients return to a depression-free life.  Once the patient has taken a holistic, healthy approach to life, they can seek extra assistance.  Dieticians, naturopaths and fitness trainers are all available to help patients learn healthier ways of eating and working out.

Atypical Depression does not have to be a permanent or debilitating disorder.  With the proper treatment, patients can make a full and complete recovery.  By seeking professional help, patients are able to make the first step toward being free of Atypical Depression.


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