Major Depressive Disorder Symptoms: Understanding MDD

Reviewed by Dawn Brown, LPC, NCC

Published 06/27/2022

Major depressive disorder or MDD is a common type of depression. It's a depressive disorder characterized by a low or depressed mood or the loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy, as well as other symptoms. Major depressive disorder is a very common mental health condition, affecting 16.1 million adults aged 18 and above in the United States alone. It isn't the only depressive disorder; other types of depression include but are not limited to persistent depressive disorder or PDD and premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD. In this article, we will go over the signs and symptoms of depression, as well as the specific criteria for MDD. 

Signs And Symptoms Of Depression

Although depression is a mental health condition, it does come with potential physical symptoms as well as psychological and behavioral symptoms.

Potential psychological and behavioral signs of depression include:

  • Low or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or guilt
  • Irritability
  • Emotional numbness
  • Excessive crying
  • Social isolation
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating

Potential physical signs of depression include:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Sleeping too much or too little

Signs Of Major Depression or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder or MDD, you must meet at least five out of nine symptoms of the disorder, one or more of which must be:

  • Low or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy

Some of the other signs or symptoms of major depression include but aren't limited to trouble concentrating or focusing, social isolation or withdrawal, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or disproportionate guilt, hypersomnia or insomnia (sleeping too much or too little), fatigue or low energy, and feeling either restless or slowed down in terms of physical movements.

If you notice any of the symptoms in yourself, be sure to see a medical or mental health professional, whether that is your primary care doctor or a mental health professional, so that you can get a diagnosis, or if you already have one, get the resources that you need to help you manage depression.

Note again that major depressive disorder isn't the only depressive disorder there is. For example, another common form of depression is persistent depressive disorder or PDD, which is characterized by ongoing low-level depression or depressive symptoms, which last for two years or more. There is also seasonal affective disorder, which is actually a type of major depression that occurs on a seasonal basis, and other disorders like postpartum depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD. 

Early Signs Of Depression

If you have depression of any kind, it can be helpful to learn to identify early signs that you're headed into a depressive episode. Early signs that depression is creeping in may include:

  • You start withdrawing from others.
  • Negative thoughts emerge more frequently (for example, you might start feeling down on yourself more frequently or have a dip in confidence, start feeling like the future is hopeless more frequently, etc.)
  • Your sense of enjoyment has dipped (things that brought you enjoyment don't seem as appealing or feel pointless, nothing feels fun when it usually would, etc.)
  • You've had a significant dip in mood.
  • A sense of numbness is creeping in.
  • You snap at the people around you.
  • There are changes in your sleep.
  • Your family or friends notice changes in your behavior or mood.

If you notice signs of depression early on, it is a good thing. Your awareness means that you can face it right now instead of later on after things have gone on for a long period of time or have worsened. Reach out. Tell a loved one and make an appointment with a professional, such as your counselor or therapist.

Signs Of Bipolar Depression

Bipolar disorder is not considered a depressive disorder. Where types of depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder, are listed among other depressive disorders in the DSM, bipolar disorder exists in a separate section called bipolar and related disorders. That said, bipolar depression is a condition that is characterized by periods of depression and periods of mania or hypomania, meaning that someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder will have experienced depressive episodes.

Here are the signs of mania in bipolar disorder:

  • Heightened energy
  • Irritability, anger, or agitation
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Distractibility
  • Racing thoughts
  • Feeling "wired"
  • Impulsivity
  • Reckless behavior, which may include unprotected sex, spending a lot of money, gambling, and so on

Hypomania is a lower-level form of mania where the symptoms will be less severe than they would in someone with full-blown mania. In some cases, full-blown mania can turn into psychosis or include psychosis. People with bipolar one disorder will have experienced one or more periods of full-blown mania, where people with bipolar two disorder will only have experienced hypomania. This is the primary difference between bipolar one and bipolar two. Mixed episodes may also occur in those with bipolar disorder.

Here are the signs of depression in bipolar disorder:

  • Low or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities one would typically enjoy
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or disproportionate guilt
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating 

As you can see, the signs of depression in bipolar disorder are the same as the signs of depression in other disorders. This can make it difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder at times. Often, people see a mental health professional when they are depressed, leading them to get a diagnosis of depression, when they may actually have bipolar disorder.

Getting The Right Diagnosis And Care

To get the appropriate diagnosis, make sure to visit a medical or mental health professional. Often, the first step to getting a mental health diagnosis will be to see your primary care physician, particularly if you do not already have a psychiatrist and therapist. Your primary care provider may be able to give you a diagnosis of depression in some cases, and they will also be able to give you a referral to a psychiatrist and/or a counselor or therapist. Other ways include finding a counselor or therapist if your doctor is unable to help you find what you're looking for. Remember to contact your insurance company and visiting their website to see what they offer.

It is also wise to get counseling or therapy through your college, university, or through a religious organization that you are a part of, look for a counseling center in your area, search for counselors in your area online, or use an online directory to look for a counselor or therapist with a specific quality. Another option is online therapy or counseling through a website like better help. If you think that you could have depression, don't wait. Depression is a highly treatable condition, and support is out there.

Depression And Gender

Often, people wonder if depression in men or depression and women displays differently. Symptoms of depression in women and depression symptoms in men generally look the same, though it is important to recognize that depression looks different for everyone, regardless of their gender. For example, some people might hide their symptoms, which may be viewed as "high-functioning depression," where another person might not be able to hide their symptoms. Another example is that one person with depression will experience emotional numbness, where another person will experience excessive crying and excessive feelings of sadness.

One difference that is notable when talking about depression and gender is that depression is more commonly diagnosed and women when it is in men. There are a couple of potential reasons for this, which could include:

  • The existence of premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, which affects people who menstruate.
  • There is a societal expectation on men to hide their emotions and mental health symptoms, which is decreasing somewhat, but it's still a substantial problem.
  • Research shows that men are typically more reluctant to go to the doctor than women are, which could mean that their diagnosis is delayed or not recognized at all.
  • Women are a marginalized group, which can come with a set of difficulties that may increase depression symptoms.
  • The risk of depression increases during menopause.

All of the above information makes it hard to determine the real statistics when it comes to depression and gender.

Depression And The Transgender Community

Another very notable piece of information when it comes to the discussion of depression and gender is that mental health symptoms are shown to be more prevalent in those who are not cisgender. Studies show that 78% of college students who are not cisgender, for example, experience mental health symptoms. Seeking an LGBTQIA+ therapist can be helpful because simply knowing that the provider you're seeing will understand you as a person can relieve a lot of the fear affiliated with seeing a counselor or therapist.

Take The Mind Diagnostics Depression Test

After reading this article, do you think that you could have depression? If you are looking for a "signs of depression test" or "signs of depression quiz," you're in luck. Although the Mind Diagnostics depression test is not a replacement for a diagnosis from a medical or mental health professional, taking it might just be the first step to getting the help and support that you need. The Mind Diagnostics depression test is free, fast, and confidential.

Head to this link to take the Mind Diagnostics depression test: