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Depression is actually a generic term for several different disorders [classified among mood disorders in DSM IV*], some acute and others chronic. This list and its descriptions are admittedly over-simplified.

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Major Depressive Disorder: Severe depression lasting at least 2 weeks, including either depressed mood "most of the day nearly everyday or loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities." The depressed person is clearly stressed by the depression [it's psychologically and emotionally painful, sometimes to the point of suicide], and work, school, or home functioning is impaired.

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Dysthymia: Long term chronic depression [though Major Depression can be chronic too]. The diagnosis requires that the depression last at least 2 years, with no break longer than 2 months. Often, symptoms are less "vegetative" [fewer sleep or appetite disturbances, for example] and functioning may be easier, if not any more enjoyable, than with Major Depression.

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Bipolar Disorder: Episodes of mania and depression with extreme swings from high to low (formerly known as manic-depressive disorder). The "highs" (manic episodes) can be dangerous due to impaired judgment and loss of reality testing, while the lows (depressive episodes) are like major depression.

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Cyclothymic Disorder: Bipolar Lite. Ups and downs for at least 2 years, but with less impairment at both extremes than in Bipolar Disorder.

Note If you'd like to see more information on mood disorders, please email me.

* American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, pp. 317-391 (American Psychiatric Press, Washington, DC, 1994).

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Jonathan P. Levine, CSW
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Rochester, NY  14626
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Updated on 06/25/2002
2002, Jonathan P. Levine, CSW