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Depression: Major Depression & Unipolar Varieties
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Major Depression Symptoms

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

A person who suffers from a major depressive disorder must either have a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities consistently for at least a 2 week period. This mood must represent a change from the person's normal mood; social, occupational, educational or other important functioning must also be negatively impaired by the change in mood. A depressed mood caused by substances (such as drugs, alcohol, medications) is not considered a major depressive disorder, nor is one which is caused by a general medical condition. Major depressive disorder cannot be diagnosed if a person has a history of manic, hypomanic, or mixed episodes (e.g., a bipolar disorder) or if the depressed mood is better accounted for by schizoaffective disorder and is not superimposed on schizophrenia, a delusion or psychotic disorder.

This disorder is characterized by the presence of the majority of these symptoms:

  • depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). (In children and adolescents, this may be characterized as an irritable mood.)
  • markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day
  • significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  • insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day
  • fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
  • diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
  • recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

The symptoms are not better accounted for by bereavement, i.e., after the loss of a loved one, the symptoms persist for longer than 2 months or are characterized by marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms, or psychomotor retardation.

Criteria summarized from:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.