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Stories about the lives we've made

module:Measuring the unmeasurable

An introduction to psychology

page:Case study: Depression

Symptoms, diagnosis and prevalence

Mood disorders are the most frequently occurring psychopathologies and the risk of developing one is around 9%. In 1998, nine million Britons sought help from their GPs for depression (British Psychological Society, 2000).

The main diagnostic reference of mental health professionals in the UK is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). This includes description, diagnostic criteria, treatment, and research findings of the most common mental disorders.

DSM-IV distinguishes between two main categories of mood disorder: unipolar depression and bipolar (manic) depression. This learning module will explore unipolar depression.

Mood disorders differ in degree from 'normal', natural reactions, both in severity, frequency and duration. They are different from the general emotional experience of the 'ups and downs' of life.

Unipolar depression

This is the most common form of depression and has been referred to as the 'common cold' of psychiatry, the most common psychological problem that people face (Seligman, 1973).

The symptoms of major depressive episode can be classified by type: emotional, motivational, behavioural, cognitive and physical symptoms (Comer, 1998).

  • Emotional symptoms: Feeling intensely unhappy, guilty, finds little or no enjoyment in anything.
  • Cognitive symptoms: Frequent negative views of self, faulty attribution of blame (blame themselves), low self-esteem and irrational hopelessness.
  • Motivational symptoms: Lack of drive, initiative, determination and difficulty in making decisions.
  • Somatic symptoms: Disturbed appetite, weight and sleep, loss of energy, restlessness.

Unipolar depression can present four types of symptoms. The DSM-IV states that either depressed mood, plus at least four symptoms (from those above) must be present during the same two week period for the diagnosis to be made.

There is at least five percent lifetime risk of developing unipolar depression. It appears cross-culturally, but is diagnosed twice as often for women.

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