When people talk about depression or depressive episodes, they are usually referring to major depressive disorder (MDD) or a similar mental disorder.
Among the most common of all mental disorders in the US, MDD typically causes weeks-long episodes of depression. This can result in loss of interest in daily activities, no sense of appreciation for oneself, and trouble sleeping. It’s an unpleasant disorder that affects a sizable portion of the population.
While these symptoms are typically well-understood and recognizable, atypical depression involves symptoms that are usually not associated with depression, and might make the disorder more difficult to identify.
Comparing MDD and Atypical Depression
Though the name might seem to indicate otherwise, atypical depression is not necessarily less likely to develop than other mental illnesses. Rather, the “atypical” part of the name refers to the way that individuals with this type of depression react to certain types of medication.
On the surface, many of the symptoms of atypical depression and major depressive disorder are shared, and one might even be confused for the other. However, atypical depression specifies a certain type of symptoms that appear in addition to a depressive episode. The specific symptoms that indicate atypical depression include:
- Mood reactivity
- Increase in appetite or weight gain
- Sleeping excessively every day
- Leaden paralysis
- Interpersonal rejection sensitivity
Many of these are not immediately obvious or well-known, so here is a breakdown on what each means and what it may look like:
Patients who are dealing with depression often find it difficult to care about anything. Even if something might be good or great news, those with MDD or another depressive disorder could find it difficult to feel happy about it—they may not even think it matters.
In atypical depression, people usually experience a normal reaction to situations that warrant happiness or sorrow. This means, for example, that if someone with atypical depression hears that something good has happened, their mood may reflect it for a time. This ability to feel and respond is one of the more telling factors of atypical depression.
Increase in weight or appetite
In MDD and other types of depression, people usually lose their appetite or feel uninterested in eating. However, the opposite can occur in atypical depression, leading to weight gain.
Excess sleepiness can occur in MDD, but it is typically more constant in atypical depression. Those dealing with MDD might have little-to-no impact on their sleep or but individuals dealing with atypical depression are likely to experience a need to sleep for unusually long and/or frequent amounts of time.
Leaden paralysis describes a feeling of heavy limbs or trouble lifting one’s own arms and legs. This might also be described as fatigue, and typically only applies to the limbs, as opposed to someone’s whole body feeling tired.
Interpersonal rejection sensitivity
This symptom characterizes a strong or intense reaction to being rejected by another person. While it is never pleasant to be rejected by someone, those who experience this symptom might exhibit consistent, intense reactions to (real or perceived) rejected. People who experience this sometimes avoid specific situations where they could be rejected, and may be afraid to try starting new relationships as a result.
Potential Causes of Atypical Depression
Since atypical depression is not its own disease, but rather a way that depressive episodes can manifest, there is no real way to identify causes of it.
It is worth noting that women are significantly more likely to experience atypical depression than men. Additionally, individuals who develop depressive symptoms at earlier ages of life are more likely to experience atypical depression.
Other than increased odds of certain groups developing atypical symptoms compared to others, there seems to be no clear cause of atypical depression as opposed to other depressive disorders.
Additional Risks of Atypical Depression
While the symptoms of atypical depression make it seem like a different disorder with additional risks, it is still fundamentally a depressive disorder, and involves all the same risks.
Specifically, depressive disorders can involve suicidal thoughts or actions, and the loss of interest in life can lead people to use or abuse prescription or illicit substances in an attempt to feel better. Both of these can be life-threatening.
If you observe someone dealing with any of these depression symptoms, or find yourself struggling in these areas, reach out for help. The symptoms can be difficult to deal with alone, and seeking out knowledgeable professionals is a small step that goes a long way.
When To Reach Out for Atypical Depression Symptoms
Depressive disorders can be incredibly difficult to overcome. However, with support and the right resources, most depressive disorders react well to therapy and/or medication.
If someone experiencing a depressive episode feels exceptionally lost or alone, they may turn to substance use, which may in turn lead to addiction. Treating multiple disorders simultaneously is difficult, so avoiding the combination altogether is by far the better way.
If you or someone you love is dealing with a substance use disorder, contact us today. Overcoming a depressive disorder—or an addiction that may have formed as a result–is not impossible. With the right resources and support, recovery is within reach.