How To Tell Which Of The 4 Types Of Depression You Have

Depression is more complex than just feeling sad.

Depressed man, disassociating Laura Mogollon, Stokpic | Canva 

You're seeing the signs of depression in yourself and you can't help but wonder, "Am I depressed?"

Unfortunately, the causes of depression can be difficult to pinpoint. Since more than one factor contributes to the onset of depression in most people, it is almost impossible to say exactly what caused depression in any one person, including yourself.

Depression is unlike the flu, where a certain virus is a cause. There are a lot of factors that appear to contribute to depression symptoms. Sometimes, a group of factors is responsible for causing depression when they come together in a certain way.


Many people have a genetic predisposition to depression, but even that in itself does not necessarily mean a person will become depressed. Other factors also come into play, such as genetics, trauma, and current situations.

There are many types of depression and here are 4 to get you started on figuring out your own so you can find the right treatment.

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Here are the 4 types of depression and how to tell which one you have:

1. Genetically-based depression

Several chemicals in the brain regulate mood and emotions. Known as neurotransmitters, these chemicals include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Some people have lower levels of these chemicals available.


When biologically or genetically based, the symptoms of depression are the result of depleted levels of neurotransmitters. A person who is genetically prone to depression may experience a quick downward spiral when something triggers a low mood. When neurotransmitter levels drop, behavior and thought patterns are affected.

This can also happen the other way around. That is, depressive behaviors and negative thoughts can lower levels of neurotransmitters. In this way, depression can change brain chemistry and become a biological condition over time if it is not treated.



When depression takes hold in this way, at least a short course of medication is often the only way to treat it. However, it is sometimes possible to recognize symptoms of depression and treat the condition naturally before it gets this severe.


RELATED: 4 Subtle Psychological Signs You're Depressed

2. Developmental depression

Some cases of depression are triggered by traumatic early experiences, such as being abused, abandoned, or neglected in childhood.

The theory behind developmental depression is that it is caused by an insecure upbringing that did not allow a person to grow into a happy, confident adult.

The result of this childhood trauma can be a sense of sadness and loss in adulthood. People with developmental depression may be insecure and feel worthless. They may also have difficulty achieving what they want to accomplish in life or even setting goals in the first place.

3. Situational depression

Situations such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a life-threatening illness can also cause or contribute to depression.


While everyone feels down when bad things happen, situational depression can become a full-blown clinical depression in certain cases.

Suppose a person is biologically prone to depression or has inadequate support or coping skills. In that case, they may not be able to recover from a stressful situation and may instead become clinically depressed.

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4. Major depression

This term is used to describe a severe and debilitating case of depression. Major depression or major depressive disorder significantly affects a person’s ability to function, and it almost always requires professional, medical intervention.




Biology is most likely to be at least partly the cause of major depression, though the condition can be triggered by something else, such as trauma or loss.

The actual cause of depression may not always be obvious until it is treated.


Often, a depression treatment that works for one person may not work for another and that’s because each case of depression has a unique set of causes.

If the medication works, the depression has a biological component. If counseling works, there may be a behavioral cause or a problem with thinking patterns. If a change in diet helps, some aspect of the depression may have been caused by a nutritional deficiency. If finding a better job after being fired turns depression around, the cause of the depression was most likely situational.

In the end, knowing what causes depression may not be as important as knowing how to treat it. Once you know how to treat a specific type of depression, you can create a targeted plan that works in your unique case.

If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.


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Dr. Monica Franciosa is a human rights counselor and therapist. She has collaborated with local filmmakers on independent projects, offering her expertise and insights on mental health and alternative therapies.