Depressive Disorders - Symptoms

Symptoms of depressive disorders vary depending whether the depression is caused by major depressive disorder or dysthymic disorder.

Major Depressive Episode

A person going through a major depressive episode feels depressed and/or loses interest in enjoyable activities. Children are more likely to feel irritable than depressed. In addition, five or more of the following symptoms appear on an almost daily basis for a period of at least two weeks:

  • Significant change in weight
  • Insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleep)
  • Extreme tiredness or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt that have no basis
  • Diminished ability to think or to concentrate, or the loss of ability to make decisions
  • Continuing thoughts of death or suicide and/or actual attempts at suicide

Dysthymic Disorder

The symptoms of dysthymic disorder occur along with other mental and physical symptoms. Up to 70 percent of dysthymic patients also have major depressive disorder. This condition is known as double depression. Some mental problems seen in people with dysthymic disorder include substance abuse (drug abuse), panic disorders (see panic disorders entry), and phobias (irrational fears). Physical problems that accompany dysthymia include multiple sclerosis (see multiple sclerosis entry), AIDS (see AIDS entry), chronic fatigue syndrome (see chronic fatigue syndrome entry), diabetes (see diabetes mellitus entry), and Parkinson's disease (see Parkinson's disease entry).

Scientists do not understand why dysthymic disorders are connected with these physical problems. They think the medical condition or the drugs used for treatment can affect the way a person's neurotransmitters operate in the brain.

Depressed mood

Lack of interest or pleasure in daily activities

Significant weight loss (without dieting) or weight gain

Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping

Loss of energy

Feelings of worthlessness or guilt

Difficulty in making decisions


Recurrent thoughts of death

(Reproduced by permission of Stanley Publishing)

In addition to feelings of depression, patients with dysthymic disorder also experience two or more of the following symptoms on an

almost daily basis for a period of two or more years (one or more years in children):

  • Under-eating or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Low energy or fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration or trouble making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness

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