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What is Unipolar Depression

What is Unipolar Depression

Published: June 28, 2022

Unipolar depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is an extremely common mood disorder; it causes a person to experience extreme negative feelings and emotional suffering.

Maybe you think that you or a loved one has unipolar depression, or you may have recently been diagnosed with it. Either way, you could be worried about what this means for you. It's important to know that living with unipolar depression does not mean that a person feels a depressed mood constantly. This post will explore what unipolar depression is, the symptoms, risk factors, and the various successful treatment methods. Keep reading to find out more.

What is Unipolar Depression (Major Depressive Disorder)?

Unipolar depression is a pervasive but severe mood disorder; in fact, the National Institute of Mental Health found that 7% of adults will experience a major depressive episode at some point in their lives.

People who are affected by this form of depression will experience a distinct set of depressive symptoms that differentiate it from other mood disorders. Affecting both mental and physical health, the mood disorder causes a person to experience a continuous feeling of sadness and a complete lack of interest in their surrounding environments.

Also referred to as major depressive disorder (MDD), clinical depression, or major depression, the medical condition affects many aspects of an individual's life, such as mood, behavioral and physical aspects, such as appetite or sleep. This can result in a person being unable to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Living with a major depressive disorder causes a person to view the world through a negative and distorted lens which affects how they feel and think about themselves and the world around them. For example, it's common for individuals to often experience suicidal thoughts and feel as though they are not worthy of life. This has a trickle-down effect of seeping its way into all aspects of an individual's life, causing them to experience low self-esteem, interpersonal conflicts, and an inability to perform daily tasks.

Although this may all seem like doom and gloom, fortunately, most people with severe depression feel vast improvements in their overall physical and mental health, and therefore life, after treatment.

The Difference Between Unipolar Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is when a person experiences frequent mood changes between two states; depression and mania, with bipolar depression referring to the depressive state. Whereas unipolar depression is the experience of constant and overwhelming negative emotions. The primary difference between bipolar and unipolar depression is that unipolar depression does not cause an individual to change between the two states.

Similar to those with unipolar depression, people living with bipolar disorder will experience extremely low episodes of major depression; however, they will also experience extreme emotional highs, referred to as manic episodes. During these episodes, a person will experience elevated moods which can present as feelings of euphoria and an abundance of energy. This can affect a person's behavior, judgment, and ability to think straight.

However, there are noted similarities between unipolar and bipolar depression which can cause issues with misdiagnoses and therefore affect treatment and recovery time. The most common symptoms of bipolar disorder and unipolar depression are the loss of interest in hobbies, activities, or general life ventures that once brought joy, as well as the inability to perform and complete daily routine tasks.

Although unipolar depression and bipolar depression share similarities when compared on a depressive scale, a mental health professional will ensure a thorough assessment of feelings and symptoms to ensure a correct diagnosis is given.

Symptoms of Unipolar Depression

We all experience moments of sadness in our lives. However, living with a major depressive disorder causes a person to view the world through a negative lens which can cause cognitive distortions in the way that they interact with work, relationships, or schooling.

When determining the correct mental health condition, mental health workers will use a diagnostic criterion to assess mental well-being, feelings, and behavior patterns. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) serves as a guide to diagnosing a range of mental disorders. In order to be diagnosed with unipolar depression, a person must meet five or more of the following symptoms that are listed on the diagnostic criteria:

  • Sadness or depression for a number of days
  • Changes in appetite can present themselves through weight gain or weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Lack of energy or restlessness
  • Concentration issues
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Suicidal ideation

Causes and Risk Factors

A mental illness will present itself differently in all individuals; no two cases of depressive disorder are the same. Therefore, there is not one singular cause of unipolar depression; instead, researchers have noted that there are a number of factors that may contribute to or put one at risk of developing unipolar depression.


Although we are unsure of what entirely causes depression, a widely accepted theory is that it is caused by a lack of balance in neurotransmitters: serotonin, and norepinephrine that are found in the brain and spinal cord.

A person may have a genetic predisposition to the condition that is triggered by trauma or stress. A combination of these can change naturally occurring chemicals within the brain that then make it difficult to maintain stable moods.


Our experiences throughout life shape how we think and act on a day-to-day basis. Specifically, our early childhood and teenage years have a huge impact on how we view the world. For example, if someone has lived in an abusive household throughout their life, they will have a different outlook in comparison to someone who has had a happy and positive upbringing. This means that when faced with adversity in the future, each individual will view the situations and themselves in very different lights. This contributes to a negative mindset and increases the risk for a predisposition to a depressive disorder.


Throughout life, we will experience stressful and possibly unfortunate events that can trigger unipolar depression or another mental illness. Whether this is through grief, lack of socialization, major workplace stress, or health challenges, all could be potential risk factors for the offset of depression.

Treatment For Major Depression

Fortunately, there are several treatment methods that are effective in treating depression. Typically a person will have a combination of medications, which help ease symptoms associated with unipolar depression, and psychotherapy, which deals with the underlying issues that may have triggered it.

It is important that when receiving treatment, a treatment plan is developed. This encourages and supports a long and lasting recovery. Depending on personal factors and your diagnosis, you will either receive treatment on an outpatient or inpatient basis.

An inpatient treatment program requires clients to stay in a rehabilitation center where 24-hour care is given. This allows individuals to complete therapy in a safe and comfortable environment whilst being surrounded by like-minded individuals, allowing natural support groups to be formed and relatable relationships to be formed.

An outpatient treatment program is where an individual lives in their own accommodation while receiving support and treatment from a treatment center. It would typically require a person to attend sessions four to five days a week, whether these are individual or group sessions.


There are a number of antidepressant medications that can effectively treat depression. A person may need to try a variation of these, as well as dosage, to figure out the ones that are most successful in relieving their symptoms.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); they decrease the speed at which serotonin breaks down in the brain and therefore allow for the presence of more. This is important as people with depression have a lack of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter that is associated with mood and sleep. Around 40-60% of people who undergo SSRI treatment felt a significant improvement within six to eight weeks.


Psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy, involves meeting with a mental health professional on a regular basis to talk about things that relate to your mental illness. They will help you to manage life with depression while offering support and coping mechanisms to implement positive life changes. Although it is not enough to fully treat depression, it is an extremely effective treatment method combined with antidepressants. There are a number of therapy options that are available to suit different individual needs, and these include:

  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy
  • Systemic therapy
  • Humanistic therapy

Alongside therapy and medication, positive lifestyle changes can improve your symptoms. Making changes to daily routines and habits can improve your life situations and mental health.

Treatment at GIA Miami

After reading this, you may be worrying about what a diagnosis would mean for you. We want to assure you that here at GIA Miami, we will support you through navigating your recovery journey.

Unipolar major depression is a treatable condition but the path to recovery differs for everyone. This is why we pride ourselves on creating an individualized treatment plan just for you. Our effective treatment programs incorporate a combination of evidence-based therapies that are carried out by caring and compassionate medical experts.

We take a cutting-edge approach to unipolar depressive disorders and offer a variety of innovative techniques. We specialize in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) which is extremely effective in relieving symptoms of treatment-resistant depression. Other types of treatment that you can expect for depression include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Psychiatric services
  • Functional medicine

Contact us today to discuss treatment options to offer you or a loved one the best chance of a full recovery. We want you to be able to live your best life.

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