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What Is Unipolar Depression

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: February 28, 2023

While most people have at least some idea what depression is, one of the things that are still missing from our general discussion about mental health and depression specifically is that there is more than one form of depression. These different kinds of depression require various forms of treatment and responses from the people around the person dealing with it.

Especially when a teenager first starts showing signs of depression [1], it’s important to have realistic and accurate information about what they are dealing with. Both the teen themselves and the people around them can benefit from knowing what depression is, how it presents, and what can be done about it.

For people dealing with depression, it’s super common to think that the depression won’t get better or that there aren’t good options out there for them, but having the right resources and knowledge can make it a lot easier to counter those feelings.

So, here’s what you need to know about unipolar [2] depression, how it can be different from other forms of mental illness. We’ll also talk about treatment options and how you can get help for teens dealing with depression.

Unipolar Depression

What Is Unipolar Depression?

Unipolar depression is another way of talking about major depressive disorder. The reason major depressive disorder is sometimes called unipolar depression is to make a clear difference between someone with bipolar disorder or bipolar depression.

Essentially, a person with unipolar [3] depression will experience many of the same feelings and symptoms as someone with bipolar disorder while they are in a depression, but they don’t also have the same symptoms of mania.

In other words, people experience the hallmarks of depression, without also feeling up or manic.

That doesn’t mean that people with major depressive disorder will always feel depressed. However, it does mean that they experience more symptoms of depression and that their depressive periods are more profound than people without the disorder. It also typically means that periods of depression may last longer than they do for other people, or that the people affected by the disorder may have a harder time avoiding getting depressed.

There are several different subtypes of depression within unipolar or major depressive disorder, and some of the subtypes are chronic, while others may resolve after a period of depression or with proper treatment.

The important thing to remember is that even chronic depression is treatable, and people who have chronic depression can still live happy, fulfilled lives overall once they learn how to manage their depression and find the right treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms Of Unipolar Depression

There are a lot of potential signs and symptoms of unipolar depression, and it can sometimes be hard to identify if these feelings are abnormal, situational, or a sign of a different mental health disorder entirely.

That is why it’s so important to get professional help when it comes to diagnosing and treating mental health disorders. Mental health professionals have a list of diagnostic criteria that help them make accurate diagnoses and help them find the right treatment options for the person experiencing each symptom.

That said, not having a diagnosis is no reason to ignore potential signs of depression among teens. The sooner you recognize that there is a potential problem, the easier it is likely to be to get help and find the right treatment before the disorder escalates.

Here are some of the common symptoms of depression you and your teen should be aware of:

  • Chronic low mood
  • Feeling sad all or most days
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Finding it difficult to be happy or joyful
  • Low energy
  • Noticeable differences in hunger and appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Feeling like you don’t matter
  • Feeling guilty, especially over small things, or feeling guilty for no real reason
  • Having thoughts of self-harm
  • Having thoughts of suicide
  • Feeling numb or empty
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty remembering things

There are other symptoms, and not everyone who has depression will have all of these symptoms, or have them all at the same time.

In teens, it’s also important to remember that some of these symptoms may be normal. For instance, experiencing insomnia and fatigue is relatively common among teens, and can contribute to some of these other symptoms, without necessarily rising to the level of depression.

Typically one of the differences between experiencing these things sometimes, and having a disorder like unipolar depression, is how long the symptoms last, how many of them you have, and how severe each symptom becomes.

However, even if these symptoms aren’t a disorder, they can still be a sign that your need require a little extra support or that they might be having a hard time for other reasons.

Why Is Depression So Common Among Teens?

A lot of people wonder why so many teenagers seem to get diagnosed with mental illnesses and disorders around this time in their lives, and whether it’s a normal part of being a teenager or if there is something more significant going on.

The truth is that we don’t know all the reasons why so many teenagers develop mental health disorders, or why the mental health of so many teenagers seems to change when they reach a certain age. But, we do know at least some of the contributing factors.

For one thing, teenagers are dealing with a lot of rapid changes, personally, interpersonally, and physically. Their minds are going through a rapid phase of development and a lot of their support systems are switching from their parents and immediate families to being more dependent on peers and outside adults in their lives.

Being a teenager can also come with a lot of external pressures that may factor into new mental health developments, including things like changing self-esteem, traumas, discovering their sexuality, economic pressure, academic pressure, and the challenges of puberty.

That said, many of those factors are the same as they have always been, and yet rates of teen depression are rising, especially among girls. That points to something having changed in a way that is making depression more likely and probably means that teens are facing new and more psychologically challenging stressors around this time in their lives. But it could also mean that we are getting better at recognizing and addressing depression, which could mean higher statistical rates of depression but similar overall experiences of depression.

Signs Your Teen Might Be Dealing With Depression

Getting depression help for a teen in need can be tricky, especially because you don’t want to make a teenager feel like there is something wrong with them for being depressed, or that you blame them or are upset with them for what they are feeling.

It’s also normal for perfectly normal developmental phases in teens to look concerning to the adults around them, or for the signs of depression to go under the radar while the teen puts up a good front.

This list is no replacement for a professional diagnosis, but it can help concerned parents and adults recognize when a teen in their life might be struggling.

Watch for sudden changes in behavior, grades, or engagement with their lives. It’s normal for teens to want to spend more time and energy with their friends instead of their family, but it’s not necessarily normal for teens to disconnect from family and peers at the same time.

Dropping grades, lower performance in a sport or club, and/or dropping out of extracurricular activities may also be a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes these things are a result of being over-scheduled, but they can also be a sign that your teen is struggling.

You should also watch for wardrobe changes, especially unseasonable ones like suddenly wearing long sleeves year-round, or suddenly deciding to radically change hairstyle or color. These can be warning signs that your teen is struggling with suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.

Remember, if you are concerned, it’s important to approach teens carefully and not to get upset or accuse them of anything. The goal is to make sure they know that they aren’t alone and that you will be understanding of whatever they are going through.

Fortunately, there are a lot of treatment options for teens dealing with depression, and treatment options are getting more effective and more accessible all the time.

Is It Time To Get Help For Your Teen?

Is It Time To Get Help For Your Teen?

There are three basic branches of treatment when it comes to depression, therapy with a trained and licensed therapist, medications, which can help balance your neurochemistry and reduce the overall symptoms of depression, and lifestyle changes like getting lots of exercise or eating a more balanced diet.

Most successful treatments for depression combine more than one treatment or more than one therapeutic approach and are tailored to the individual going through treatment. Teens may sometimes benefit from family therapy sessions or sessions with specific important individuals in their lives that can help all the participants find new ways to express themselves and interact.

At BasePoint Academy we focus on the teen perspective and stage of development to create dynamic treatment plans that incorporate more than one type of treatment and help teens develop the social and emotional skills they need to thrive no matter what mental health or substance use struggles they may be dealing with.

Reach out to us to learn more about our treatment programs, admissions process, or what you and your teen can expect to get out of treatment here.


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[1] Geiger AW, Davis L. Pew Research Center. (2020, December 23). A growing number of American teenagers – particularly girls – are facing depression. Retrieved from on 2023, January 24

[2] Villines, Z. Medical News Today. (2022, January 11). Unipolar depression: Definition, symptoms, and treatment. Retrieved from on 2023, January 24

[3] Wisner W. Verywell Mind. (2022, July 22). What is Unipolar Depression?  Retrieved from on 2023, January 24