Types of depression

On this page we explain the types of depression and their symptoms. If you or someone close to you think they might have depression, we can help you find support.

Two friends supporting each other

About the types of depression

Everyone experiences depression differently. However, there are different types of depression that have particular symptoms. They may also appear at different times. For example, postnatal depression appears around childbirth, while seasonal affective disorder appears during winter.

Some are talked about more often than others. You might have heard of clinical depression and bipolar. Types such as cyclothymic disorder and dysthymic disorder aren’t mentioned as often.

Sometimes we use different names for the same type of depression. For example, clinical depression is also called major depressive disorder.

Major depression

Also known as: clinical depression, depression, unipolar depression.

Major depression is when you feel sad, down or miserable most of the time. You might also lose interest in things you usually enjoy.

Types of major depression include melancholia, psychotic and antenatal or postnatal. You may be diagnosed with mild, moderate or severe depression.

Your mental health professional may diagnose you with depression if these symptoms:

  • happen most days
  • last for at least two weeks
  • impact on many areas of your life, including work and social relationships.

Learn more about Signs and symptoms of depression.

Melancholia

Melancholia is severe depression which often has physical symptoms. You might:

  • move more slowly
  • feel sad, down or miserable
  • be completely unable to enjoy anything.

Psychotic depression

Sometimes depression can include losing touch with reality or experiencing psychosis.

Symptoms of psychotic depression can include hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

Hallucinations

You might see or hear things that aren't there.

Delusions

A delusion is a false belief that isn’t shared by others. For example, you might believe that you’re:

  • bad or evil
  • being watched or followed.

Paranoia

If you feel paranoid you might:

  • feel like everyone is against you
  • believe that other people have made you ill or caused bad things to happen.

Antenatal and postnatal depression

Your risk of developing depression is higher during pregnancy and in the first year after childbirth. During pregnancy around 10 per cent of women experience depression. In the first three months after having a baby this increases to 16 per cent.

Depression which develops during pregnancy and after childbirth has a few different names:

  • antenatal or prenatal depression – depression during pregnancy
  • postnatal depression - depression in the year after childbirth
  • perinatal depression – any time during pregnancy or in the year after childbirth.

The baby blues

Around 80 per cent of women get the ‘baby blues’ in the first few days after childbirth. You might feel tearful or overwhelmed, but this will pass in a few days with care and support.

The baby blues happens because of changes in your hormones after your baby is born and doesn’t mean you’ll develop depression.

Learn more: Perinatal depression and the baby blues.

I thought he'd be better off without me.

Read Sandi's experience with post-natal depression.

Dysthymic disorder

Dysthymia is long-term depression which lasts at least 2 years. It has similar symptoms to major depression, but they’re less severe.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is when you experience periods of depression and periods of mania, with periods of normal mood in between. It affects around 2 per cent of Australians and can be difficult to diagnose.

Mania

Feeling manic is the opposite of feeling depressed. In a period of mania you might:

  • feel great
  • have lots of energy (and not sleep much)
  • have racing thoughts and talk quickly
  • find it hard to focus on tasks
  • feel frustrated and irritable.

Some people with bipolar can lose touch with reality and have an episode of psychosis during a period of mania. Psychosis can involve hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder

Diagnosis depends on you having had episodes of mania as well as episodes of depression. Because people often only seek support when they’re having an episode of depression, bipolar can be hard to diagnose.

If you're experiencing periods of high mood as well as periods of low mood, tell your health professional when you seek support.

Sometimes it can take years to get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder can be misdiagnosed as depression, alcohol or drug abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or schizophrenia.

Causes of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder seems to be most closely linked to family history. Stress and conflict can trigger periods of depression or mania.

Cyclothymic disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is similar to bipolar disorder but less severe. It’s a long-term condition lasting for at least 2 years.

If you have cyclothymia your periods of mania and depression are milder and shorter. In between these periods you may feel ‘normal’ for up to 2 months.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

SAD is a mood disorder that has a seasonal pattern. The most common type of SAD is when you feel depressed in the winter and better in the lighter and warmer months.

When you feel depressed and have SAD you’re more likely to:

  • experience a lack of energy
  • sleep too much
  • overeat and gain weight
  • crave for carbohydrates.

SAD is thought to be related to the variation in light exposure in different seasons. It's usually diagnosed after you’ve had the same symptoms during winter for a couple of years.

SAD is very rare in Australia. It’s more likely to affect people in countries with shorter days and longer periods of darkness.

Learn more about SAD

Do I have depression?

It can be hard to know whether you’re feeling depressed or have depression.

Our anonymous mental health check-in can help you understand whether your symptoms are likely to go away on their own, or whether it’s time to get more support to help you feel better.

It’s an evidence-based tool which asks you 10 questions about the feelings you’ve been having over the past 4 weeks. It’s sometimes called the “K10” and is widely used by GPs and mental health professionals.

Mental health check-in

Finding mental health support

Your GP can be a good place to start the conversation about your mental health.

We can also help you find other support that’s right for you. This could include talking to our counsellors or helping you find a mental health professional near you.

Get mental health support

Connect with our online peer support community

Anonymously read, share and learn from people who are also living with depression.

The Beyond Blue Forums is a welcoming peer support community. Posts are moderated by qualified counsellors.

Visit the Beyond Blue Forum depression discussions

Supporting someone else

If you’re worried about someone close to you, there are things you can do to support them.

Journey to recovery - personal stories

If you have depression, you’re not alone. 

Learn what depression feels like and how it can be managed.

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