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Depression is a mental illness marked by feelings of profound sadness and lack of interest in activities. It is a persistent low mood that interferes with the ability to function and appreciate things in life.

Atypical depression is depression with periods of mood brightening in response to positive events. Atypical depression will also have some symptoms that are not often found with depression.


The exact cause of atypical depression is not known but probably due to changes in brain chemistry. It is likely from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

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Risk Factors

While the exact cause of depression is not clearly established, there are several factors that are associated with atypical depression such as:

  • Having a family history of depression
  • Having a personal history of mental illness
  • Chronic illness, such as cancer
  • Stressful or traumatic life events
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • History of drug or alcohol use disorder
  • Certain medications
  • Lack of a support system


People with atypical depression have depression with periods of mood brightening, known as mood reactivity. Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Overeating
  • Oversleeping
  • Heavy feeling in the arms or legs
  • Feeling rejected


There is no blood test or diagnostic test for atypical depression. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. The doctor may also ask about depression symptoms and behaviors as well as any family history of mental health issues.

Specific mental health questionnaires may be done. This will help the doctor get detailed information about your speech, thoughts, memory, and mood. A physical exam and other tests can help rule out other causes.


Combination treatment of medication and psychotherapy is often the most effective.


Whether or not depression develops is part of genetic makeup that cannot be prevented. However, certain habits may help decrease the risk of depressive episodes:

  • Being aware of your personal risk factors
  • Having a psychiatric evaluation and psychotherapy if needed
  • Developing social supports
  • Learning stress management techniques
  • Exercising regularly
  • Not abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Getting adequate sleep, rest, and recreation
  • Eating healthful foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains

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