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The characteristic symptom of the depressive disorders is a persistently depressed and empty mood. A period of sadness or melancholy that occurs in reaction to personal loss or trauma is often referred to as a reactive depression. While in some instances a reactive depression may be severe enough to require treatment, it is normally of short duration and self-correcting. In the depressive disorders, however, the depressed mood arises spontaneously and is long lasting, the symptoms are severe, and the individual is unable to function normally.

A major depressive episode is characterized by either a persistent depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities over at least a two week period. Four or more of the following symptoms must also be present: significant weight change or change in appetite, sleeping too much or not being able to sleep, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, an inability to concentrate or indecisiveness, and recurrent suicidal thoughts.

Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by a major depressive episode that last at least two weeks, severe enough to cause marked impairment in the individual’s daily functioning. A person may experience a major depressive episode only once, but more commonly episodes occur several times in a lifetime.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) is a less severe form of depression that is characterized by a chronically depressed mood for at least two years. The symptoms of dysthymia, while not seriously disabling, do keep the individual from functioning well or feeling good. Many people with dysthymia experience major depressive episodes during their lives.

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Additional Resource

TED Talk: Kevin Breel – Standing Strong Together