Diagnosis & Types of Depression

Diagnosing depression involves assessing both the types and levels of symptoms an individual is experiencing. Whether depression is assessed by a clinician or through the use of a paper-and-pencil questionnaire, the medical community has agreed upon a cluster of symptoms it uses to define depression:

  • Sad mood
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Change in appetite and/or weight
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Physical slowing or agitation
  • Poor concentration
  • Low self-esteem or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

The first two symptoms (sad mood and loss of interest in pleasurable activities) are called cardinal symptoms. An individual must experience at least one of these in order to be diagnosed with depression.

Although each type of depression varies in terms of severity and duration of symptoms, all three can have a negative, and potentially debilitating, effect on an individual’s quality of life.

Major Depression

Major depression is diagnosed when five or more of the nine symptoms, including at least one cardinal symptom, are present most of the time for at least two weeks.

Minor Depression

Minor depression is diagnosed when two to four of the nine symptoms, including at least one cardinal symptom, are present most of the time for at least two weeks.

Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymic disorder is diagnosed when depressed mood and at least two other symptoms (not including loss of interest) are present more days than not for at least two years.

Although each type of depression varies in terms of severity and duration of symptoms, all three can have a negative, and potentially debilitating, effect on an individual’s quality of life. Encouragingly, however, all three types of depression are highly treatable, and treating depression has huge positive impacts on restoring an individual’s quality of life.