Glossary of Depression Terms

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 27, 2022
3 min read

Antidepressant. A drug used to treat depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants that includes drugs like citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), and sertraline (Zoloft)

Anxiety disorder. A chronic condition that causes anxiety so severe it interferes with your life. Some people with depression also have overlapping anxiety disorders.

Bipolar disorder. A type of depression that causes sometimes extreme mood swings between depression and mania (or hypomania.) This condition used to be called manic depression.

Depression. An illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts that affect the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things.

Dysphoric mood. Low mood that may include dissatisfaction, restlessness, or depression.

Dysthymia. A type of chronic, low-grade depression that is less severe than major depression. It can also last for years. Dysthymia may not disable a person, but it prevents one from functioning normally or feeling well. Modern diagnostic systems include "dysthymia" with "chronic major depression" (that is, a major depressive episode lasting 2 years or more in an adult or 1 year or more in children and adolescents) under the general term "persistent depressive disorder."

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). A treatment for depression performed under general anesthesia that uses an electric current to create a brief, controlled seizure. It is safe and often effective for depression that hasn't responded to drugs or therapy or when symptoms are so severe that a rapid response is especially important.

Hypomania. A milder form of mania.

Hypothyroidism. A condition when the thyroid doesn't produce enough thyroid hormone. This can lead to symptoms of depression, fatigue, weight gain, and other health problems.

Light therapy (also called phototherapy). Therapy consisting of exposure to light that is brighter than indoor light and mimics sunlight. It may help treat some forms of depression.

Major depression. The medical diagnosis for an episode of clinical depression that lasts for at least two weeks and interferes with daily life. It causes symptoms like low energy, fatigue, and feelings of hopelessness.

Mania. A phase of bipolar disorder, mania is a period of intense energy, euphoria or irritability, sleeplessness, or recklessness. It is so extreme that it interferes with a person's life and can involve false beliefs (delusions) or perceptions (hallucinations).

Manic depression. An old term for bipolar disorder.

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). A group of medicines sometime prescribed to treat severe depression. MAOIs increase the concentration of chemicals responsible for sending information between nerves in particular regions of the brain, which may lead to better mental functioning.

Mood stabilizers. A class of drugs used to treat some types of depression, like bipolar disorder. They include lithium and some drugs originally used for seizures called anticonvulsants. These include carbamazepine (Tegretol), divalproex (Depakote), and Lamictal (lamotrigine).

Neurotransmitter. A chemical in the brain, like serotonin or norepinephrine, that sends messages between brain cells. Medicines that treat depression often alter the levels or functioning of these chemicals.

Panic attack. A sudden feeling of intense fear or anxiety, accompanied by physical symptoms, that isn't triggered by real danger. Panic attacks are common in many anxiety disorders.

Postpartum depression. Depression that affects women who have recently given birth. Many new mothers experience a brief episode of mild mood changes known as the "baby blues," but some will have postpartum depression, a much more serious condition that requires active treatment and emotional support for the new mother.

Psychiatrist. A medical doctor (MD or DO) who specializes in treating mental health disorders. Because psychiatrists are doctors, they can prescribe drugs like antidepressants. Some also use psychotherapy.

Psychologist. A non-MD professional (PhD or PsyD) who specializes in the treatment of mental or emotional disorders. Psychologists typically use psychotherapy to treat people with depression and other conditions. They are also trained to give psychological tests such as IQ tests, cognitive function tests, or personality measures.

Psychotherapy. A way of treating a mental or emotional disorder by talking with a therapist. It may also be called "talking therapy" or "talk therapy."

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression that happens seasonally, usually starting in fall or winter and ending in spring or early summer. It is often treated with phototherapy, which is regular exposure to special lights.