Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a common mental health condition that may affect how you feel, think, and manage daily activities.
MDD causes symptoms of depression, such as sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness. It may also cause other depressive symptoms, such as low energy and difficulty concentrating.
People often use the word “depression” to refer to MDD, but it’s only one of several health conditions that can cause symptoms of depression.
Read on to find the answers to some of your most pressing questions about MDD and depression.
MDD is a specific type of depression. People with MDD have frequent or lasting symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks. The symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily activities, such as school, work, or sleep.
Other mental health conditions may also cause symptoms of depression, including:
- Persistent depressive disorder: This condition is also known as dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. Symptoms tend to be less severe than MDD but can last longer.
- Seasonal affective disorder: Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder are older terms for major depressive disorder with seasonal onset. Symptoms come and go with changing seasons, typically starting in the late fall or early winter and going away in the spring and summer.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): People who menstruate may be affected by PMDD. The symptoms typically start a week or two before your period begins and go away within a few days of your period starting.
- Perinatal depression: This is an older term for major depressive disorder with peripartum onset (the period immediately before or after birth). Symptoms of perinatal depression may start during pregnancy or after childbirth. When they develop after childbirth, it’s known as postpartum depression.
- Schizoaffective disorder: In schizoaffective disorder, symptoms of depression are accompanied by symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions or hallucinations. Delusions happen when you develop disturbing and false fixed beliefs, and hallucinations happen when you see or hear things others don’t.
People with bipolar disorder also have depressive episodes when they feel sad or hopeless and have low activity levels. They may also have manic episodes when they feel very happy or elated with increased activity levels.
Potential symptoms of MDD include:
- a persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness
- feelings of anxiety, irritability, frustration, or restlessness
- loss of pleasure or interest in enjoyable activities
- lack of energy
- getting too much or not enough sleep
- feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or guilt
- eating too much or too little
- difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions
- aches or pains with no clear physical cause
- slowed movement or speech
- thoughts of hurting yourself
To get a diagnosis of MDD, you must have at least five of the symptoms above for 2 weeks. These symptoms must occur nearly every day for most of the day and interfere with at least some of your daily activities.
Let your doctor know if you’ve been experiencing any of the symptoms above. They can help determine whether MDD or another condition is causing your symptoms.
If you develop thoughts of hurting yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 for free, confidential support 24/7.
To learn whether MDD or another condition is causing your symptoms, your doctor or a mental health professional will ask you questions about your symptoms, such as:
- When did they start?
- How often do you experience them?
- How do they affect your mood, thoughts, and daily activities?
They will ask about other changes in your health that you’ve recently experienced, including new health conditions you’ve developed or treatments you’ve received.
They may also ask about other major life changes that may be contributing to your symptoms, such as the recent death of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, or the loss of a job.
The doctor may also conduct a physical exam to rule out other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms. These include certain thyroid conditions and vitamin deficiencies. The doctor may sometimes order blood tests or other tests to check for these conditions.
MDD has many potential causes, including:
- abnormalities or changes in your brain chemistry or structure
- changes in the level of certain hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone
- stressful or traumatic life events
- alcohol or drug misuse
You’re more likely to develop MDD if you have a family history of the condition. Certain health conditions or medications may also raise your risk.
Multiple factors may interact to cause MDD, which can make it difficult for doctors to determine the specific cause.
MDD is one of several conditions that can cause symptoms of depression.
Some of the other conditions that cause symptoms of depression tend to be less severe or easier to manage than MDD. Other conditions tend to be more severe or harder to manage than MDD.
The symptoms of MDD can range from mild to severe. They vary from person to person and may also change in the same person over time.
Talk with your doctor to learn more about your specific diagnosis, treatment options, and outlook.
Getting treatment may help improve symptoms of depression from MDD or other causes.
If you’re experiencing mild symptoms of depression, your symptoms may go away without treatment. In these cases, it’s crucial to meet with your doctor regularly to discuss how you’re feeling and to keep track of your symptoms.
Treatment may be needed if your symptoms get worse, last more than 2 weeks, or start interfering with your daily life.
- psychotherapy or talk therapy
- lifestyle changes
You may need to try multiple treatments to find an approach that works for you.
If other treatments don’t work well, your doctor or mental health professional may recommend
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one more major life activities.” According to this definition, MDD often counts as a disability.
As a result, people with MDD in the United States may have a right to certain legal protections under the ADA. This includes protection against discrimination by employers, government agencies, and some other service providers.
Depending on your employer, you might also have a right to:
- Reasonable workplace accommodations to help you manage MDD.
- Job-protected, unpaid leave to manage MDD-related symptoms or another health crisis.
To learn more about these rights, visit ADA.gov and the U.S. Department of Labor.
MDD can cause similar symptoms as some other mental health conditions, such as:
- persistent depressive disorder
- seasonal affective disorder or MDD with seasonal onset
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- perinatal or postpartum depression or MDD with peripartum onset
- schizoaffective disorder
- bipolar disorder
- substance-induced depressive disorder
Depression-like symptoms may also develop with some medical conditions, such as certain thyroid conditions and nutrient deficiencies.
Sometimes people may also confuse grief or bereavement with MDD.
Grief is a common response to difficult life changes, such as the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Like MDD, it can cause feelings of intense sadness and withdrawal from your usual activities.
Grief can potentially trigger an episode of MDD or may develop in someone who already has MDD. But many people who experience grief don’t develop MDD.
Grief that’s intense and persistent can have similar symptoms to MDD but may, in fact, be considered prolonged grief disorder.
Your doctor or mental health professional can help you learn what’s causing your symptoms and recommend an appropriate treatment plan or support resources.
Let them know if your symptoms change or if your treatment doesn’t seem to be working. In some cases, they may adjust your diagnosis or treatment plan.
MDD affects different people in various ways. Some people only have a single short episode of MDD, while others may have symptoms that last longer or come and go throughout their lifetime.
Multiple factors may trigger changes in symptoms of MDD, including physical health changes or life stressors.
Some people may develop new or worse symptoms of MDD as they age. Other people may find their symptoms improve with age.
Let your doctor know if you develop any changes in your mood or other symptoms. Getting treatment can help improve symptoms of MDD at any age.
MDD is a common type of depression that can cause mild to severe symptoms, including changes in your mood, thoughts, and ability to manage daily activities.
Some other mental and physical health conditions can cause similar symptoms of depression.
Tell your doctor if you think you might be experiencing symptoms of depression. They can help you learn if you have MDD or another underlying medical condition. Your recommended treatment plan will depend on your diagnosis.
If you get a diagnosis of MDD, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional for further support.
Your treatment plan may include a combination of psychotherapy, medication, or lifestyle changes. If these treatments don’t work well, you might benefit from brain stimulation therapy.