Depression is usually signified by extended moods of sadness and a generally low mood even when events occur that should normally lift someone’s spirits. Patients generally ignore all positive stimuli, preferring to remain in a cocoon irrespective of external circumstances. At one stage, the loss of motivation starts interfering with their routine life.
Atypical depression, just as the name suggests, isn’t like other types of depression and is also called depression with atypical symptoms.
In these cases, the individual is bound to lighten up in the face of good news, but this period of happiness doesn’t last long, and the individual returns to depression. Despite the name, however, atypical depression is not uncommon and is just as prevalent as other forms of depression. Women are two times more susceptible than men to this condition. Research has confirmed that this kind of depression is chronic in nature and afflicts an individual at an early age.
Symptoms of Atypical Depression
A patient of atypical depression exhibits most of the symptoms of classics depression disorder. Still, some of the symptoms of atypical symptoms are quite unique, and they can help to distinguish this kind of depression. Besides the differing symptoms, it can still affect a person’s behavior and even their physical health.
- Depression that abates with good news--the person may experience depressive symptoms for days and even weeks, but a single positive event can lift their spirits for some time. The switch from depression to a high energy state can happen drastically, even within a few hours, and so does the switch back to depression.
Apart from this key symptom, the patient must exhibit at least two or more of the symptoms listed below:
- Increased appetite: Whereas other forms of clinical depression tend to cause a lack of appetite, atypical depression has an opposite effect. There is a significant increase in the diet of the patient. As the weeks go by, the individual may begin to gain weight.
- Oversleeping: The affected individual will often sleep for more than 10 hours in a day, and they may also experience difficulty getting out of bed.
- Increased sensitivity: There may also be an increased reaction to criticism where the individual feels very sensitive when others make comments about them. Usually, the person can be found crying even when the reason isn’t good enough. This may affect interpersonal relationships at home or at work.
- Heaviness in the limbs: This is quite different from fatigue where the person merely feels a general weakness all around. With atypical depression, the arms and legs feel heavy and difficult to move, incapacitating the individual for an hour or more.
These symptoms are quite different from another form of depression like, say, melancholic depression. Melancholic depression does not respond to any major life events and has the opposite symptoms of insomnia and lack of appetite.
Causes of Atypical Depression
There is still no known cause for any kind of depression including atypical depression, but a malfunction in the brain circuitry is thought to be the cause. There are various risk factors that are thought to contribute to or trigger this malfunction, though, such as:
- A history of depression running in the family
- Abuse in the individual’s early life whether physical, mental, or sexual
- A history of drug use
- Major life events like the loss of a loved one, a job, or even retirement
- Serious medical conditions like cancer, stroke, and heart disease
In some cases, the depression may have been passed on genetically. It may also be caused by an imbalance of chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There are no tests for atypical depression; your doctor will rely on symptomatic diagnosis. Blood tests are performed to check for thyroid or any other irregularities. This helps the doctor in establishing any underlying physical cause behind the symptoms.
After conducting these tests, the health professional consulted to diagnose the problem will make use of the symptoms observed and the potential risk factors. A detailed analysis of past history and causative factors is made before confirming the diagnosis and deciding on the course of action.
Treatment of atypical depression does not follow any fixed pattern; it may vary among individuals. A combination of medication along with talk therapy and changes in lifestyle are adopted for the best results. The doctor may prescribe medication for the problem like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These medications are generally successful in the treatment of the condition.
The side-effects of the medications must be considered and the necessary precautions observed when one is using these drugs, especially MAOIs, in order to avoid complications.
Talk therapy is almost always recommended. This involves opening the channels of communication between the doctor and the patient. The therapist listens to the past and present life circumstances of the patient to identify the causes of depression. The factors or situations aggravating the symptoms may also be considered. With the help of the doctor, the patient learns to replace negative thought processes with a positive outlook. The individual is encouraged to solve his problems with action-oriented behavior. He is trained to challenge the belief system that induces the feeling of helplessness and regain control over his life.
It is also important to make various life changes that have a positive effect and help eliminate depression. These minor changes go a long way in improving mental health. Physical exercise on a daily basis boosts mental and physical well-being. Adequate sleep and deep relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing also help in alleviating the symptoms.
Diet supplements are also beneficial in promoting overall health. However, you must consult your doctor before taking recourse to any supplements.
Maintaining a journal and opening up to family and friends can aid positive mental health.
Like all other forms of depression, atypical depression is completely curable. Timely medical intervention and maintenance are of the utmost importance. A healthy lifestyle can keep the symptoms under control. Routine follow-ups with the doctor are necessary to avoid relapses and to live a prosperous and healthy life.