Depression presents itself in many forms, and some of those forms may be more difficult to recognize. “Atypical depression” is a diagnosable type of depression that affects a surprisingly large number of people who, because of the unique symptoms, may not otherwise think that they have a form of depression.
But make no mistake about it, atypical depression is a subtype of depression.1 Despite the name, it is not uncommon: Atypical depression is responsible for between 23 to 36 percent of all cases of depression, but because of the non-standard symptoms, it often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed.2
Symptoms of atypical depression may include:
- Sleeping a lot, sometimes up to ten hours a day or more (hypersomnia),or difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Overeating (hyperphagia) instead of losing appetite
- Changes in weight
- Temporary relief from depression during positive events1
“Talking about my depression gives it light and helps me to share the load of it, not an easy task; it can be heavy for the support person and oftentimes downright exhausting…
The face of depression can be deceiving. That person who seems to have it all together may be having a really bad day, maybe they are, right at that moment, anxious about three things at once and seem aloof or distant, maybe they were up all night worried about a sick child, maybe it took an act of God to get dressed and get their kids’ lunches made, or maybe they just want to understand how it feels to be carefree and spontaneous.
One of my favorite quotes is: ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.’ It’s true…and you are not alone.”
Other Symptoms of Atypical Depression
One recognizable symptom of atypical depression is what is known as mood reactivity and rejection sensitivity. These problems can be misleading and make diagnosing a little more difficult.
Often, people with atypical depression feel much worse after they experience things like rejection or loss. While nobody enjoys the feeling of rejection or denial, people who struggle with atypical depression may struggle to maintain daily activities after experiencing social rejection. This “rejection sensitivity” does not exactly balance with the positive mood reactivity. A person with atypical depression may experience just a little happiness when something good happens, but struggle to overcome negative stimuli.
The same person may be able to feel better when life is going well. These temporary pick-me-ups often hide the effects of long-lasting depression. However, as with similar conditions such as postpartum depression, the feelings of happiness do not last, and the common feelings of depression return soon after.3
Another symptom of atypical depression is what is known as “leaden paralysis.” This condition may cause you to feel physically unable to move, as though their body is being weighed down by lead. This sensation may last as little as an hour, or take up many hours of the day.4
How to Overcome Atypical Depression
Treatment for atypical depression follows the same pattern as treatment for other forms of depression. There are two main courses of treatment for atypical depression: supportive counseling, and medical or medication assistance.
Psychotherapy can help strengthen you. A supportive counselor can help you learn new coping skills for everyday life events, and coach you through your positive changes. Group therapy can offer a space for you to overcome challenges among people who understand your goals and what you have been through.
Medical management through medication has made a great deal of progress in the last ten years. Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the newer generation of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, and tricyclic antidepressants can all make a big difference. These medications are constantly being tested and refined, and, like humans, each antidepressant is unique.5
Although the symptoms of atypical depression can be frustrating, there is a world of help and assistance for you, or for a loved one who you feel may be atypically depressed. We can answer your questions about the signs of atypical depression, as well as give you the information you need regarding treatment here at Black Bear Lodge. Call for more details.
1 Mayo Clinic. Atypical Depression. 15 Sept 2015.
2 Marano, H. The Different Faces of Depression. Psychology Today. 1 Jul 2002.
3 Quitkin, Frederic M. :Depression with Atypical Features: Diagnostic Validity, Prevalence, and Treatment.” Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2002.
4 Cristancho, M., et.al. Atypical Depression in the 21st Century: Diagnostic and Treatment Issues. Modern Medicine Network. Accessed 28 February 2018.
5 Mayo Clinic. “Antidepressants: Selecting one that’s right for you.” 17 Nov 2017.