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Did You Know There Are 4 Different Types of Depression?

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, Shape | Dec 6, 2016

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Depression is the most common mental illness and the leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the CDC, affecting nearly one in three women at some point in their lives. This prevalence makes treating and curing depression a top priority. But doing so has proven to be quite difficult, as the illness can present itself differently from one person to the next. One reason for this may be that what people simply call “depression” could actually be four different mental illness, with different brain signatures, symptoms, and treatments, according to a new study published today in Nature Medicine. (P.S. Take a look at your brain on depression.)

If you’ve ever complained about exhaustion, angry outbursts, or even joint pain, chances are one of the first things your doctor did is screen you for depression. (Some doctors are even suggesting that you get screened for depression annually.) Part of that is likely because depressive symptoms are so common. But the other half of the equation is because the symptoms are so wide ranging, and even then, getting an accurate diagnosis is difficult because the answers are very subjective. For instance, answering “yes” to the question “Do you no longer get joy from activities you used to enjoy?” could mean you are experiencing serious depression. Or it could mean you’re just bored, hungry, or having a grouchy day. Plus, the more symptoms you report, the trickier it can be to find the right treatment.

Researchers from Cornell decided to tackle this problem by scanning the brains of 333 people with depression (as well as 378 people without depression). After analyzing the images, they were able to recognize four distinct subtypes of the mental illness, providing an objective way (no weird Q&A session needed) to diagnose depression and, hopefully, treat it appropriately.

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