-By Dr. Abayomi
Almost everyone is familiar with the term, ‘depression’. By depression, we mean clinical depression, which simply refers to a disorder where an individual experiences intense feeling of sadness, gets tired easily and has reduced enjoyment of life’s activities; usually for a period of not less than two weeks.
However, there is a type of depression described as “atypical depression.” Here, even though depressed, an individual’s mood actually improves should something positive happen to him or her. At the same time, rather than suffer from poor sleep, reduced appetite and weight loss, as is common in depression; persons with atypical depression instead may sleep too much, have increased appetite and even gain weight. In addition to this, they may experience a feeling of being weighed down or paralyzed – especially on the legs and arms.
How common is Atypical Depression?
Atypical depression is very common, and it affects your day to day activities, your relationships with family members, colleagues at work and neighbours. It also affects your performance at work. In very severe cases, persons with atypical depression may contemplate taking their own life.
What Causes Atypical Depression?
As it is true for a majority of mental illnesses, the exact cause of atypical depression is yet unknown. However, research has shown that changes in the level of some brain chemicals responsible for our moods may cause depression. Some factors have been identified to increase one’s risk of having a depression. Some of these factors are:
- A history of depression in one’s family
- Traumatic childhood experiences such as sexual abuse, rape or violence
- Stressful life events such as loss of job, divorce, or death of loved ones
- Misuse of alcohol
How Do I Know If I Have Atypical Depression?
You may be suffering from atypical depression if you experience some of the following symptoms:
- Intense feelings of sadness that improves in response to positive events
- Excessive sleep at night and feelings of daytime sleepiness
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Feelings of heaviness, weight or paralysis on the legs or arms
- Undue sensitivity to criticisms or rejection.
Recognizing the above symptoms in oneself or others is a good starting point. In addition, one also needs to see a doctor or any trained mental health professional for proper diagnosis.
Your doctor would ask you a series of questions about your symptoms and carry out a comprehensive evaluation, sometimes including blood tests, before establishing a diagnosis of atypical depression.
What is the Treatment for Atypical Depression?
After a diagnosis is made, it is important to know that effective treatment is available for atypical depression. This treatment can be either by the use of medications called pharmacotherapy, or by the use of talk-therapy, also known as psychotherapy. In most cases, a combination of both is preferred, depending on the severity as determined by your doctor.
Can Atypical Depression Be Prevented?
Yes, there are few measures one could put in place to help prevent the occurrence of atypical depression. These measures include:
- Early identification of stress and learning to cope with it effectively
- Enhancing one’s interpersonal and relational skills
- Developing problem solving skills
- Reaching out to family and friends, religious and social groups in times of crisis.
Seeking help and treatment at early stages of depression.