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What Is a Major Depressive Episode?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A major depressive episode is a significant period of mood, behavioral, and psychological changes often associated with depression. Depressive episodes may occur once or repeatedly, and may be a sign of a larger mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder. Psychology experts define a major depressive episode as adherence to at least five of the major symptoms of negative impairment over at least a two week period. Some of the symptoms common to a major depressive episode include sleep and energy changes, appetite changes, consistent depression or irritability, lack of pleasure or interest in daily activities, and episodes of lethargy or agitation.

The diagnosis of a major depressive episode is outlined in many psychology reference manuals, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, better known as the DSM-IV. According to the diagnostic outline, patients may have a combination of at least five qualifying criteria to be considered in the midst of a major depressive episode. Symptoms considered in the diagnosis should not be attributable to any existing medical or drug-induced condition. To be considered for diagnosis, the symptoms must include consistent symptoms of depression, or a marked lack in interest or enjoyment of life for at least two weeks.

Feeling deeply sad, hopeless or depressed is the most significant symptom of a major depressive episode.
Feeling deeply sad, hopeless or depressed is the most significant symptom of a major depressive episode.

Feeling deeply sad, hopeless, or depressed is probably the most significant symptom of a major depressive episode. Thoughts of death or suicide may be common, and some studies show a link between depressive episodes and an increased risk of suicide. People experiencing feelings of depression can go through various manifestations of the condition, including crying fits, increased irritability, emotional numbness, physical symptoms such as headaches, and chronic fatigue.

A depressive episode may occur after being terminated from a job.
A depressive episode may occur after being terminated from a job.

In a major depressive episode, sleep and energy levels can be significantly affected. Sleeping too much or too little can both be symptoms of major depressive episodes, so long as the changes marks a significant alteration from normal sleeping patterns. While it may not be surprising that those suffering from lack of sleep will become lethargic or constantly fatigued, even people sleeping far more than usual may also feel exhausted all the time.

Someone who faces severe bullying may have a major depressive episode.
Someone who faces severe bullying may have a major depressive episode.

Increased or decreased appetite that results in significant weight gain or loss may be considered a symptom of a major depressive episode. People suffering from depression-related appetite issues may not feel hungry or feel constantly hungry. Some may experience food cravings, especially for sugary foods or those high in carbohydrates. Decreased appetite may be a somewhat more common symptom of a major depressive episode.

Self medicating is common during major depressive episodes.
Self medicating is common during major depressive episodes.

A significant depressive episode may resolve without psychological treatment, but it can also be an important sign that a person is in need of aid. Episodes can be brought on by acute traumas, such as the death of a loved one, but may also be signs of a larger mood disorder with no immediate cause. A person in the midst of a depressive episode can be in danger of harming his or her career, personal relationship, or even committing suicide. Psychological evaluation can help determine if symptoms of depression may add up to a major depressive episode.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a WiseGEEK writer.

Learn more...
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a WiseGEEK writer.

Learn more...

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    • Feeling deeply sad, hopeless or depressed is the most significant symptom of a major depressive episode.
      By: ivolodina
      Feeling deeply sad, hopeless or depressed is the most significant symptom of a major depressive episode.
    • A depressive episode may occur after being terminated from a job.
      By: jivan child
      A depressive episode may occur after being terminated from a job.
    • Someone who faces severe bullying may have a major depressive episode.
      By: gemenacom
      Someone who faces severe bullying may have a major depressive episode.
    • Self medicating is common during major depressive episodes.
      By: William Casey
      Self medicating is common during major depressive episodes.
    • Major depressive episodes might be caused by a mood disorder.
      By: doble.d
      Major depressive episodes might be caused by a mood disorder.
    • An individual who is suffering from a major depressive episode may contemplate suicide.
      By: dragon_fang
      An individual who is suffering from a major depressive episode may contemplate suicide.
    • Depression can impact a person's appetite.
      By: mbt_studio
      Depression can impact a person's appetite.
    • A strong emotional support system is helpful for people dealing with a major depressive episode.
      By: Radosław Brzozo
      A strong emotional support system is helpful for people dealing with a major depressive episode.