How Is a Major Depressive Disorder Different from Everyday Depression?

Depression can impact different people in different ways. In fact, it is safe to say that there is no one-size-fits-all definition of depression, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment either. That being said, people who have any kind of depression tend to experience the same types of symptoms.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, common depression symptoms include:

  • woman suffering from major depressive disorderFeelings of emptiness or sadness
  • Irritability
  • A sense of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Low energy
  • Slow movements
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to think clearly, make decisions, or remember things
  • Sleep changes
  • Weight changes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Complaints of illness a doctor cannot verify

These symptoms might be present in almost anyone who has depression, but there are key differences in how those symptoms manifest between minor depression and major depression.

Minor Depression (Everyday Depression)

Minor depression, which some people might call everyday depression, is a diagnosable mental illness. It is not a condition that will always disappear without treatment. It is a medical condition that people need to get treatment for, so they have the best chance of achieving a full recovery.

In an overview article in the Primary Care Companion, Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers say that a diagnosis of minor depression applies when people have at least two symptoms of depression, but fewer than five symptoms. Those symptoms must persist during a two-week period.

People like this are definitely struggling with their mental health. But they may not get help for those issues, because they simply do not seem severe enough to merit attention. People like this may still be able to go to work, handle home obligations, and otherwise lead a relatively normal life, but deep down, they are struggling and they need help.

Major Depression (Clinical Depression)

A major depressive episode is a serious medical issue in which the person is profoundly impacted by the symptoms of depression. This is a medical problem that rarely if ever resolves without treatment, and it can recur repeatedly. People with this mental illness need to get help, so they can end the current episode and keep new episodes from taking hold.

In that same article mentioned above, researchers report that this diagnosis applies when people have at least five symptoms of depression that last for at least two weeks.

People who have major depression need help, but they may not be capable of asking for that help on their own.

Treatment for Depression

Happy woman on a flower field The American Psychiatric Association says that depression can be effectively treated with medication, psychotherapy, and/or electroconvulsive therapy. Doctors assess the current depression symptoms and the person’s history of depression in order to determine the best treatment plan. Once it is chosen, it can change over time, depending on how well the person responds to the care provided.

The takeaway from this is that depression can be effectively treated. It is a medical problem that is known, and it has been studied. Doctors know how it works and they know how to respond.

In some instances, people with depression may turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope with their symptoms of depression. In these instances, treatment for the co-occurring disorders of depression and substance abuse is possible.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Sunrise House is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands... Read More