Any type of depression can make you feel sad and keep you from enjoying life. However, if you have atypical depression, certain key signs and symptoms tend to occur. These include increased hunger, weight gain, sleeping a lot, feeling that your arms and legs are heavy, and difficulty maintaining relationships.
Atypical depression often starts in the teenage years and is more common in women than in men. Despite the name, atypical depression isn't uncommon or unusual. Similar to other forms of depression, treatment for atypical depression includes medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and lifestyle changes.
Depression of any kind can cause feelings of sadness and a decreased ability to enjoy life. But atypical depression includes these main signs and symptoms:
When to see a doctor
If you're reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one, a health care professional, a faith leader, or someone else you trust.
If you have suicidal thoughts
When to get emergency help
If you have a loved one who is in danger of committing suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room.
It's not known exactly what causes atypical depression. As with other types of depression, a combination of factors may be involved. These include:
Many factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression, whether it's atypical or not. Risk factors include:
Family history and issues with family or others may also increase your risk of depression:
Like other types of depression, atypical depression is a serious illness that can cause major problems. Atypical depression can result in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life. Complications associated with atypical depression may include:
Preparing for your appointment
You may see your primary care doctor, or your doctor may refer you to a physician who specializes in mental health (psychiatrist). Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Prepare a list of questions ahead of time, from most to least important in case time runs out. Basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions anytime you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
These exams and tests can help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms, pinpoint a diagnosis and check for any related complications:
Diagnostic criteria for atypical depression
For a diagnosis of atypical depression, you must first meet the general DSM criteria for major depression — such as feeling down most of the day and losing interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed. You'll also need to meet other specific criteria for atypical depression.
For a diagnosis of atypical depression you must have this symptom:
In addition, you must have at least two of these symptoms for diagnosis:
Atypical depression has a specific definition as a diagnosable condition. But some doctors and mental health providers use the term more loosely. Ask for a definition if it isn't clear what your doctor or mental health provider means when he or she says "atypical depression."
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for atypical depression is generally the same as for other types of depression. In some cases, a primary care doctor can prescribe medications to relieve symptoms. However, many people with atypical depression need to see a psychiatrist. Most people also benefit from seeing a psychologist or other mental health counselor. Usually the most effective treatment is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
Atypical depression most often occurs as part of mild, long-lasting depression. However, it can cause more severe symptoms in some people, such as feeling suicidal or not being able to do basic day-to-day activities.
Here's a closer look at your treatment options.
Finding the right medication
If you're bothered by side effects, don't stop taking an antidepressant without talking to your doctor first. Some antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms unless you slowly taper off, and quitting abruptly may cause a sudden worsening of depression. Don't give up until you find a medication that's suitable for you.
If antidepressant treatment doesn't seem to be working, your doctor may recommend a blood test called the cytochrome P450 (CYP450) to check for specific genes that affect how your body processes antidepressants. This may help identify which antidepressant might be a good choice for you, although these genetic tests may not be widely available and they have limitations.
Antidepressants and pregnancy
Antidepressants and increased suicide risk
Through these talk sessions, you can learn how to identify and make changes in unhealthy behavior or thoughts, explore relationships and experiences, find better ways to cope and solve problems, and set realistic goals for your life. Psychotherapy can help you regain a sense of satisfaction and control in your life and help ease depression symptoms such as hopelessness and anger.
Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
Lifestyle and home remedies
Depression generally isn't an illness that you can treat on your own. But in addition to professional treatment, these self-care steps can help:
Make sure you understand the risks as well as possible benefits if you pursue alternative or complementary therapy. Don't replace conventional medical treatment or psychotherapy with alternative medicine. When it comes to depression, alternative treatments aren't a substitute for professional care.
Herbal remedies and supplements
Because some herbal and dietary supplements can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions, talk with your health care provider before taking any supplements.
Relying solely on these therapies is generally not enough to treat depression. They may be helpful when used in addition to medication and psychotherapy.
Coping and support
Talk with your doctor or therapist about improving your coping skills, and try these tips:
There's no sure way to prevent depression. However, these strategies may help.
Last Updated: 2012-09-20
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