As with any type of depression, atypical depression can make you feel blue and keep you from enjoying life. When you have atypical depression, a particular pattern of signs and symptoms tends to occur. You may feel hungry and gain weight. You may sleep a lot, and your arms and legs may feel heavy. Many people who have atypical depression have a hard time maintaining relationships and are especially afraid of rejection by others.
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. As with other forms of depression, treatment for atypical depression includes medications, psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and lifestyle changes.
Depression of any kind can cause:
In addition to standard symptoms of depression, atypical depression symptoms also include:
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
It's not known exactly what causes atypical depression. As with other types of depression, a combination of factors may be involved. These include:
Although the precise cause of atypical depression isn't known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering it, including:
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 can include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. However, when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred directly to a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychiatrist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your appointment. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For problems related to depression, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
When doctors suspect someone has depression, they generally ask a number of questions and may do medical and psychological tests. These tests can help rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms, pinpoint a diagnosis and also check for any related complications. These exams and tests may include:
Diagnostic criteria for atypical depression
For a diagnosis of atypical depression, you must first meet the general DSM criteria for major depression — which includes feeling down and losing interest in things 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 very specific definition as a diagnosable condition. But, be aware that some doctors and mental health providers may use the term more loosely. Ask for clarification if it isn't clear what exactly 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 treatment for other types of depression. Medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) are effective for most people.
In some cases, a primary care doctor can prescribe medications to relieve depression symptoms. However, many people need to see a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychiatrist). Most people with atypical depression also benefit from seeing a psychologist or other mental health counselor. Usually the most effective treatment for depression is a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
Atypical depression most often occurs along with 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. If you have severe depression, a doctor, loved one or guardian may need to guide your care until you're well enough to participate in decision making. You may need a hospital stay, or you may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until your symptoms improve.
Here's a closer look at your treatment options.
Finding the right medication
Some antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms unless you slowly taper off your dose, and quitting suddenly may cause a sudden worsening of depression. Don't give up until you find an antidepressant or medication that's suitable for you — you're likely to find one that works and has tolerable side effects.
If antidepressant treatment doesn't seem to be working, your doctor may recommend a DNA test to check for specific genes that affect how your body uses antidepressants. Cytochrome P450 genotyping tests may be able to help predict how well your body will processes (metabolize) a medication. This may help guide your doctor in identifying an antidepressant that's likely to work for you and cause the fewest side effects. Genetic tests are new, so they aren't widely used yet. It isn't clear how well they work to predict which antidepressant is likely to work best.
Antidepressants and pregnancy
Antidepressants and increased suicide risk
Psychotherapy sessions can help you:
There are several types of psychotherapy that are effective for depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used therapies. This type of therapy helps you identify negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones. It's based on the idea that your own thoughts — not other people or situations — determine how you feel or behave. Even if an unwanted situation doesn't change, you can change the way you think and behave in a positive way. Interpersonal therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are other types of counseling commonly used to treat atypical depression and other types of depression.
Hospitalization and residential treatment programs
Lifestyle and home remedies
Depression generally isn't an illness that you can treat on your own. But you can do some things for yourself that will help. In addition to professional treatment, follow these self-care steps:
You may be interested in trying to relieve depression symptoms with complementary or alternative medicine strategies. These include supplements and mind-body techniques. Make certain you understand risks as well as possible benefits before pursuing alternative 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.
Here are some common alternative treatments that are used for depression.
Herbal remedies and supplements
Some herbal and dietary supplements for depression — particularly St. John's wort — can interfere with prescription medications or cause dangerous interactions. To be safe, talk to your doctors and other health care providers before taking any supplements.
Mind-body techniques that may be helpful for depression include:
As with dietary supplements, take care in using these techniques. Although they may pose less of a risk, relying solely on these therapies is generally not enough to treat depression. If you try mind-body techniques or other alternative therapies first to treat your depression but your symptoms worsen or don't improve, talk to your doctor.
Coping and support
Coping with depression can be challenging. Talk to your doctor or therapist about improving your coping skills, and try these tips:
There's no sure way to prevent depression. However, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost your self-esteem may help. Friendship and social support, especially in times of crisis, can help you weather rough spells. In addition, treatment at the earliest sign of a problem can help prevent depression from worsening. Long-term maintenance treatment also may help prevent a relapse of symptoms.
Last Updated: 2010-05-20
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