Old Terms for Types of Depression

There are several types of depression. Different depression diagnoses are described in My Mental Health Diagnoses -- What Types of Clinical Depressions Do I Have? These official diagnoses are the terms most often used in books and articles that address depression today.

In additional to the official diagnoses, other terms are occasionally used to describe types of depression. Reactive depression, secondary depression, primary depression, endogenous depression, psychotic depression, and neurotic depression are all terms that you may come across. These terms were used more frequently in the past to classify types of depression…they are not used frequently in current literature.

I will describe each term here because you may encounter one of the terms as you read older books and articles. If so, you will want to know what the author means by the term.

Primary depression and endogenous depression both refer to a type of depression that is believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in a person’s brain. The imbalance involves neurotransmitters that carry messages from one nerve cell to another. For more information about these chemical imbalances and how they relate to depression see the article, Medication For Depression.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that these two terms refer to a type of depression that is brought on by internal, biological factors rather than external stressors.

Reactive depression and secondary depression are terms most often used to describe types of depression brought on by external life situations. These terms are used to refer to depressions that occur because of stressors, emotional trauma, significant losses, and so on.

Personally I do not believe we can separate the types of depression so cleanly and precisely. I think all clinical depressions have both internal, biological, chemical causes and external, environmental, situational, stress related causes.

Depression is best understood in terms of both biology and psychology rather than either biology or .

Different people seem to be influenced differently by both biological factors and psychological factors. Where one person may be strongly inclined toward depression by his or her genetic make-up another may be more strongly disposed toward depression by poorly developed coping skills or by having experienced more than his or her share of misfortune in life.

The first person’s depression may be 90% related to biology and 10% related to psychology…the second person’s depression may be 90% related to psychology and 10% related to biology. Nevertheless, both people are influenced by their bodies and by their life circumstances.

The two other terms used to describe types of depression are psychotic depression and neurotic depression. Again these terms are seldom used in current literature.

Psychotic depression refers to symptoms that a person with clinical depression may experience. Psychosis means a person is out of touch with reality. Psychotic symptoms may include hallucinations such as seeing things that are not present or hearing voices.

Also included are delusions. A delusion is an irrational or false belief that the deluded person fully accepts as true.

It is not uncommon for people experiencing severe depression to have psychotic symptoms. For example, a depressed person may see a coffin floating in space, hear voices telling him or her that he or she is evil, or have a strong belief that he or she is going to soon die though physically healthy. The current term for a type of depression characterized by these symptoms is major depression, severe, with psychotic features.

Neurotic depression means any type of depression that does not produce psychotic features. Thus, the term means not psychotic.

If a person currently has a severe depression with no psychotic symptoms he or she would be diagnosed with major depression, severe, without psychotic features. The term neurotic depression would not be used.

In the past nuerotic depession has also been used to describe a milder, long-term depression currently called dysthymic disorder.

Although these terms are no longer used it is good to know what they mean. You will probably come across them at one time or another as you read and learn about types of depression.