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Unipolar Depression, Definition, Symptoms, & Treatment

What is Unipolar Depression?

Unipolar depression definition: Unipolar depression is a subtype of major depressive disorder (MDD) characterized by persistent low mood and a lack of manic or hypomanic episodes. It often contrasts with bipolar disorder, where individuals experience alternating depression, mania, or hypomania. Unipolar depression involves prolonged and persistent sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide. It is a common mental health condition that can significantly impact daily functioning and overall well-being. Treatment options include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. It is crucial to seek professional help for proper diagnosis and support.

Unipolar Depression Symptoms

Unipolar depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is characterized by a range of symptoms that persist for an extended period. Common symptoms of unipolar depression include:

  • Persistent sadness or a depressed mood: Feeling down, hopeless, or experiencing a pervasive feeling of emptiness.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities: Losing interest in activities once enjoyed, including hobbies, socializing, or personal relationships.
  • Significant changes in appetite or weight: Experiencing significant weight loss, weight gain, or changes in appetite and food preferences.
  • Sleep disturbances: Experiencing difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping excessively.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy: Feeling constantly tired, lacking energy or motivation for daily activities.
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions: Experiencing problems with focus, memory, or decision-making abilities.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt: Having negative and self-critical thoughts, feeling a sense of worthlessness or excessive guilt over minor events or mistakes.
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation: Displaying either restlessness, fidgeting, or slowed movements and speech.
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide: Having frequent thoughts about death, dying, or suicidal ideation.

Unipolar vs Bipolar Depression

Unipolar depression and bipolar depression are two distinct forms of mood disorders with different characteristics:

  • Unipolar Depression (Major Depressive Disorder): Unipolar depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is characterized by persistent sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities. Individuals with unipolar depression typically experience depressive episodes without any history of manic or hypomanic episodes. The mood remains in the depressive state for an extended period, impacting daily functioning and overall well-being.
  • Bipolar Depression: Bipolar depression is a component of bipolar disorder, which involves cycling between periods of depression and periods of mania or hypomania. Bipolar depression shares similar symptoms with unipolar depression, including sadness, loss of interest, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. However, in bipolar disorder, individuals also experience distinct periods of elevated mood, increased energy, impulsivity, and grandiosity during manic or hypomanic episodes.

Key differences between unipolar and bipolar depression include the presence of manic or hypomanic episodes in bipolar disorder and the absence of these episodes in unipolar depression. The treatment approaches for unipolar and bipolar depression may also differ, with bipolar depression often requiring specific interventions to address both depressive and manic symptoms.

We delve into unipolar depression, a prevalent mental health disorder affecting millions worldwide. We clearly define unipolar depression and discuss its symptoms, including persistent sadness, loss of interest, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Furthermore, we explore various treatment approaches, from therapy to medication, and highlight the importance of seeking professional help. Join us as we shed light on unipolar depression and empower individuals to find effective strategies for healing and recovery.
We delve into unipolar depression, a prevalent mental health disorder affecting millions worldwide. We clearly define unipolar depression and discuss its symptoms, including persistent sadness, loss of interest, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Furthermore, we explore various treatment approaches, from therapy to medication, and highlight the importance of seeking professional help. Join us as we shed light on unipolar depression and empower individuals to find effective strategies for healing and recovery.

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Depression Fact Sheet

Depression Overview

Depression is a group of illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder connected to mood elevation or depression.

Situational Depression Definition

Situational depression, also known as reactive depression, is a type of depression that occurs in response to a specific stressful event or situation. It is characterized by sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities. Situational depression is directly linked to the triggering event or circumstance and may resolve once the situation improves or the person adapts to the new circumstances. It differs from clinical depression, a more persistent and pervasive form of depression not necessarily tied to a specific event or situation.

Types of Depression

Clinical Depression: A mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life.

Persistent depressive disorder: A mild but long-term form of depression.

Bipolar disorder: A disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs.

Bipolar II disorder:  A type of bipolar disorder characterized by depressive and hypomanic episodes.

Postpartum depression: Depression that occurs after childbirth.

Depression Treatments

  • Support group: A place where those pursuing the same disease or objective, such as weight loss or depression, can receive counseling and exchange experiences.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: A conversation treatment that aims to change the negative attitudes, actions, and feelings connected to psychiatric discomfort.
  • Counseling psychology: A subfield of psychology that handles issues with the self that are connected to work, school, family, and social life.
  • Anger management: To reduce destructive emotional outbursts, practice mindfulness, coping skills, and trigger avoidance.
  • Psychoeducation: Mental health education that also helps individuals feel supported, validated, and empowered
  • Family therapy: psychological counseling that improves family communication and conflict resolution.
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Depression Statistics

One of the most prevalent mental diseases in the US is major depression. Some people with serious depression may experience substantial impairments that impede or restrict their capacity to engage in important life activities.

21 million

An estimated 21.0 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 8.4% of all U.S. adults.

Source: National Institute on Mental Health


The prevalence of major depressive episodes was higher among adult females (10.5%) than males (6.2%).

Source: National Institute on Mental Health


The prevalence of adults with a major depressive episode was highest among individuals aged 18-25 (17.0%).

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Diagnosis of Unipolar Depression

To diagnose unipolar depression, also called major depressive disorder (MDD), a qualified healthcare professional must do a full evaluation. Here’s a quick look at how unipolar depression is diagnosed:

  • Initial assessment: The healthcare provider will do an initial assessment to find out about the person’s symptoms, medical history, family history of mental health problems, and any possible medical or psychiatric conditions that may be causing them.
  • Diagnostic criteria: The healthcare provider will look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) from the American Psychiatric Association to see if the person meets the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
  • Evaluation of symptoms: The healthcare provider will check for the presence and severity of depressive symptoms, such as persistent sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, changes in appetite or weight, sleep problems, fatigue, trouble concentrating, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and frequent thoughts of death or suicide. The symptoms should have been there for at least two weeks, making it hard for the person to go about their daily life.
  • Differential diagnosis: To ensure a correct diagnosis of unipolar depression, the healthcare provider will rule out other possible causes, such as medical conditions, drug use, or other psychiatric disorders.
  • Duration and recurrence: The healthcare provider will examine how long depressive episodes last and how often they happen. For a person to be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, they must have either one major depressive episode or several episodes over a certain amount of time.
  • Collaboration and assessment tools: Sometimes, doctors will use extra assessment tools, like questionnaires or rating scales, to help with the diagnosis and figure out how bad the depressive symptoms are.

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Causes of Unipolar Depression

Unipolar depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is a complex condition influenced by various factors. The causes of unipolar depression are multifactorial and can involve a combination of biological, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Here are some factors that may contribute to the development of unipolar depression:

  • Biological factors: Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, play a role in regulating mood. Changes or disruptions in these brain chemicals can contribute to depression.
  • Genetic predisposition: A family history of depression increases the likelihood of developing unipolar depression. There is evidence of a genetic component, although specific genes associated with depression have not been definitively identified.
  • Environmental factors: Stressful life events, such as trauma, losing a loved one, relationship difficulties, financial problems, or significant life changes, can trigger or exacerbate depressive symptoms.
  • Childhood experiences: Adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or early loss, may increase the vulnerability to developing depression later in life.
  • Medical conditions: Certain conditions, such as chronic pain, thyroid disorders, hormonal imbalances, or neurological conditions, can contribute to depression.
  • Substance abuse: Substance abuse or dependence can increase the risk of developing depression. Substance use alters brain chemistry and can contribute to depressive symptoms.
  • Psychological factors: Negative thinking patterns, low self-esteem, excessive self-criticism, or a history of anxiety disorders can contribute to depression.

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Which therapy is helpful in treating unipolar depression?

Several types of therapy have been shown to help treat unipolar depression, also called “major depressive disorder.” The type of therapy someone chooses depends on their own preferences, how bad their symptoms are, and how skilled the therapist is. Here are some of the most common treatments for unipolar depression:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): The main goal of CBT is to find and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that make someone feel depressed. It helps people develop better ways to deal with problems and think more positively and realistically.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): IPT focuses on improving relationships with other people and dealing with specific events or conflicts in life that may cause depression. It aims to improve people’s ability to talk to each other, fix relationship problems, and work on social and emotional support systems.
  • Psychodynamic therapy looks at how unconscious thoughts, past events, and unresolved conflicts affect feelings and actions in the present. It aims to make people aware of deeper problems and help them heal through self-reflection and insight.
  • Behavioral Activation (BA): BA aims to get people to do more enjoyable and rewarding activities, which is the opposite of what people often do when they are depressed. It helps people feel happy and successful again, boosting their mood and motivation.
  • Mindfulness-based therapies, like Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), focus on being in the moment and learning to accept your thoughts and feelings. These methods can help people deal with their depressive symptoms and lessen the effects of their negative thoughts.

Supportive therapy gives people a safe, caring place to talk about their feelings and get emotional support. It can help you deal with stress, feel better about yourself, and improve your ability to deal with problems.

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  1. is lamictal for unipolar depression effective?

    Lamictal, known as lamotrigine, is primarily approved for treating epilepsy and bipolar disorder. While some evidence suggests its potential efficacy in treating unipolar depression, its effectiveness as a standalone treatment for unipolar depression is not well-established.

    Research studies on lamotrigine for unipolar depression have yielded mixed results. Some studies have shown a potential benefit in reducing depressive symptoms, while others have not found significant improvement compared to a placebo. The evidence suggests that lamotrigine may be more effective for preventing depressive episodes in individuals with a history of recurrent unipolar depression.

  2. Does lithium for unipolar depression work?

    Lithium is mostly known for how well it works to treat bipolar disorder, where it helps keep mood swings under control. But, compared to other treatments, it is not used as often or as well for unipolar depression.

    Some studies suggest that lithium may help treat unipolar depression, but the evidence is limited and mixed. Research shows that lithium may work better for people with certain traits, like a history of bipolar disorder in their family or a history of not responding well to other antidepressants.

    Lithium is not usually considered the first treatment for unipolar depression in clinical settings. Most of the time, the first treatments are antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). But if standard treatments haven’t worked, a doctor or nurse may consider lithium an alternative or additional treatment.

Coping with Depression Informative Video

Coping with depression can be challenging, but there are several strategies you can use to help manage your symptoms. Exercising, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can help improve your mood. Talking to a therapist can also be beneficial as they can provide additional resources and help you process your thoughts and feelings. Lastly, knowing what triggers your depressive episodes can help you better prepare for them.

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Search We Level Up WA Unipolar depression, Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment Mental Health Topics & Resources
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