Atypical Depression Explored: Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors of Atypical Depression

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Atypical Depression Symptoms

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, atypical depression is a mood disorder and a subtype of major depressive disorder. The atypical classification comes from the features of this particular disorder, which contrast with the features you might normally associate with clinical depression.

This disorder is characterized by the presence of a specific set of symptoms. These symptoms include mood reactivity, meaning that you respond to positive or negative occurrences in your life with a corresponding positive or negative reaction. This contrasts with other types of major depression, in which people generally feel sad and hopeless regardless of what happens to them.

Additional symptoms include:

  • Weight gain resulting from an increased appetite
  • An increased need for sleep
  • Heavy feelings in limbs, as though you don’t want to or are unable to move them
  • An increased social sensitivity where you feel highly sensitive to either criticism or rejection in your relationships and job
  • A difficulty with managing and maintaining relationships

Atypical Depression Causes

Just as with other forms of depression, the causes of atypical depression are not entirely clear. However, there are several possible causes that can result in the development of this debilitating disorder. According to, your brain chemistry plays a role, just as with other types of mood disorders. When your brain produces the wrong amounts of certain neurotransmitters, your brain chemistry is thrown out of balance, resulting in depressive symptoms.

Additionally, there is a genetic component to depression. If one of your family members suffers from depression, the chances are much higher that you will develop this disorder than someone without a family history of depression. Stressful life events can also trigger atypical depression. If a loved one dies or if you experience another type of loss, such as the loss of a relationship or job, you may develop atypical depression.

Finally, it is thought that trauma suffered in early childhood, such as the loss or absence of a parent or abuse or neglect can also play a role in the way your brain operates, leading to an increased likelihood of developing a depressive disorder.

Atypical Depression Risk Factors

Certain risk factors may increase the chances that you’ll develop atypical depression. Interestingly, atypical depression appears to occur more frequently in women than in men. If you were depressed as a child, it’s more likely that you’ll suffer from atypical depression as an adult. A family history of alcoholism and taking certain types of medications may also play a role.

Other factors that can lead to an increased risk of atypical depression include having very little social contact, having a family member who committed suicide, being seriously ill, experiencing financial problems, abusing drugs and possessing specific personality traits such as pessimism.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, American Psychiatric Association, 1994 Atypical Depression