What is the difference between depression and Major Depressive Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Depressed person

Depression.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Depression, Mood Disorder or Major Depressive disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder is a specific diagnosable disorder listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)  Sometimes we use the term imprecisely to refer to both the common sense feeling of sadness and a series of specific mental disorders that we professionals call mood disorders.

The dictionary definition of depression is essentially sadness. In the mental health field, it means so much more.

The differences in mood or depressive disorders are largely a matter of certain specific features that the person has rather than saying anything about the cause. There are also some related conditions that are not currently official “depressive disorders” but for which depression is a feature.

Confused yet? It takes 4 years of college and two more of grad school to make it all this complicated.

Mood problems often occur in “episodes” so they can come and go with or without treatment. The episodes don’t get specific diagnoses, but they do get used to see if you have all the features of a specific diagnosis.

Now if you are depressed and suicidal, which specific mood disorder you have may not matter to you, but it matters a whole lot to the insurance person approving your treatment. Since not everyone agrees which things are severe enough to require treatment, the list fades in and out with time.

What makes depression into a Major Depressive Disorder rather than garden-variety depression is a few key factors.

How long you been feeling that way?

To be major depression it should have lasted for more than 2 weeks AND there should be at least 4 other symptoms of impairment. The effort here is to separate normal life problems from an illness that needs treating.

How has this affected you?

There needs to be some problem in your life over and above just being sad. Being over sad all the time but not quite getting bad enough to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder is called Dysthymic Disorder.

So we look to see can you work? Do you have friends and family? Do you still do some things for fun? These things separate out the sad moods and the sad-for-a-reason from the sad-way-to-much-and-too-long that characterizes Major Depressive Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder is also separated into “single episodes” and “recurrent.” The first time someone has Major Depression we look more for causes. If they have repeat performances of depression we look at this as likely to be something produced by the person, either biologically or thinking wise.

Depressive Episodes, hence Major Depressive Disorder can also be “graded” into mild, moderate and severe. For the treating professional this helps plan treatment. For the insurance company, it helps them known how big a bill they are getting for this treatment.

Sometimes the depression gets so bad that the brain starts making up stories. This looks a lot like the psychosis in Schizophrenia but it only happens to some people and then only when they are severely depressed.  This is called with (or without) psychosis depending on whether you have or do not have psychosis.

People who have Major Depressive Disorder do not all look or act the same. Some people become so depressed they have trouble moving. This is called Catatonia which is also associated with sleep paralysis.

The old fashion name for depression was melancholy. This is typically very severe in the morning but gets better as the day moves forward. People with this variety also wake up early. They don’t feel like eating and they either sit unable to summon up the energy to do anything, or they pace aimlessly about.  Often they also feel guilty about everything and hate to bother people.

People with atypical features are more like bears hibernating for the winter. They are hungry when awake and they sleep day and night but are still tired.  They are likely to feel that people are rejecting them and don’t what them around. People with atypical features can brighten a little for a while if you dangle something they like in front of them, but this improved mood doesn’t last long.

Postpartum Depression is also a recognized type. This is easy to understand in women soon after the birth of a child, due to the changes in the hormones in the woman’s body. It can also be seen in men especially after the birth of the first child as there is a change in the primary relationship. The fairy tale is over. Some men become excited about fatherhood, others feel like they have lost a lover.

There is also a seasonal pattern associated with depression. Sometimes this is referred to as Seasonal Affective disorder or “winter blues.”  This pattern can occur in the summer or at the spring and fall changes of weather, but those changes are more likely to be associated with Bipolar Disorder than Major Depressive Disorder.

For more on related conditions check the categories list to the right of the posts or watch for words to turn blue indicating they have been linked to other posts about this topic. My plan is to add links as quickly as I can finish the posts of these other topics.

Feel free to leave comments or email me about your questions. While I can’t provide therapy or counseling over the internet, you need to come to see me in the office for that, I will be glad to try to answer questions of general interest.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Is it a medical problem or a mental health problem – Axis III

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Medical record

Diagnosis.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Which Axis does that go on?

UPDATE

Under the DSM-5 system, mental health professionals no longer separate the information onto five Axis. We do still look for this information.

Several questions have come in on the relationship between medical issues, physical symptoms and the five-axis system of the DSM. This is the lay version of that discussion. For a full discussion, you would need to consult the APA site or the full DSM-4-TR. I see from the search terms coming into counselorssoapbox.com that there are several questions about this.

The mental health profession is focused on mental illnesses. The DSM it the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” for a good reason. So if the problem is medical it is outside what we are doing. If you have ANY doubt, please see a medical doctor first and get any possible physical illness or condition ruled out before seeing a therapist. The DSM, however, does not see psychical and mental disorders as two separate things even though different professions may treat different aspects.

Some mental disorders can create symptoms that are physical. People who are depressed may not be able to sleep or they may sleep excessively. Nightmares can be a symptom of PTSD. These sorts of mind-body problems can be helped by therapy. Some disorders have elements of both physical illness and learned behavior. If a mental illness is caused by a medical problem it is diagnosed as a mental illness and goes on axis I. The DSM cites a thyroid condition that results in depression as an example of this. Drug-induced hallucinations would be another.

Short answer – Mental illness goes on Axis I

(Axis II if it is long-term or hard to treat like Personality Disorders)

Some physical conditions can affect your mental health even though they are not the direct cause of the illness. If you become depressed as a result of a cancer diagnosis then the therapist and the psychiatrist would want to know about the cancer when treating your depression. Medical conditions affecting your mental health show up on Axis III. Which is a sort of “oh by the way” thing for therapists.

Medical condition that “influences” your mental health – AXIS III

One reader asked about coding Pregnancy. As I see it if I were treating a client for OCD and she gets pregnant, the pregnancy does not have to be coded. If I were treating this same person for depression and anxiety as a result of a rape and now she finds out she is pregnant, well the pregnancy may now have an effect on her mental health.

Sleep disorders are especially troubling. Poor sleep can be a symptom of a mental illness as in depression. Poor sleep can cause mental illness as in a breathing problem (sleep apnea) that prevents good sleep and creates depression or irritability. Intrusive nightmares can be a sign of PTSD. They can also be causing or maintain the symptoms.

There are some sleep disorders listed in the DSM but that list is not as inclusive as the list in the International Classification of Sleep Disorders. Sometimes there is a connection and sometimes people have a mental illness and sleep disorders that may influence each other but are not directly linked.

Sleep disorders are a highly specialized area. If you have a problem with sleep I recommend that you talk with your physician and you may need a referral to a sleep specialist.

In a future blog post or two, I want to discuss some conditions that get mistaken for other things and mixed up with mental health diagnosis.

More on Sleep Paralysis, Hypnagogic Hallucinations (Hypnagogia), Hypnopompic Hallucinations, Lucid Dreaming and their relationship to mental illness in posts to come.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.