Depression affects an estimated one out of every six American adults every year [source: Merck Manual]. We're not talking about a couple days of the blues from time to time -- major depression is a disabling illness. It causes persistent and overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness, negative thoughts and feelings, loss of interest in normal everyday activities, excessive feelings of guilt, thoughts of suicide or attempted suicide. Depression may also cause physical symptoms such as aches and pains, significant weight loss or gain, restlessness, low libido, sleeping too much or too little, fatigue and sometimes mental sluggishness and physical slowness [source: American Psychological Association]. To be diagnosed as a major depressive episode, a person's symptoms must last for at least two consecutive weeks.
Depression doesn't look the same from person to person. Because of those individual variations, clinicians use terms called specifiers to describe each major depressive episode with greater detail. For instance, episodes may be mild, moderate or severe, and can be single episode or recurrent. They may be triggered by seasonal changes (such as seasonal affective disorder), or develop in women during postpartum (postpartum depression). Specifiers are also used to describe any atypical, melancholic, psychotic or catatonic symptoms (called features) an individual may experience from episode to episode. Specifiers may also be used to indicate if a patient is in partial or full remission.
Let's look at an example. A woman suffering from her first major depressive episode about six weeks after giving birth to her daughter might be described as having major depression, single episode (because it's her first), with postpartum onset.
Catatonic depression is a type of mental illness more commonly known as major depression with catatonic features. Let's figure out what that means.