Major Depressive Disorder vs. Persistent Depressive Disorder | Banyan Mental Health
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Major Depressive Disorder vs. Persistent Depressive Disorder


Major depressive disorder (MDD) and persistent depressive disorder (PDD) are two types of depression. These are mental health disorders that are marked by symptoms like feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, and more. Both are severe enough to impair a person’s daily life and relationships. They vary in symptom duration, diagnosis criteria, and more. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial for finding appropriate treatment. In light of this, we’re sharing a guide on major depressive disorder vs. persistent depressive disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Also known as depression and unipolar depression, major depressive disorder (MDD) is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that can interfere with a person’s day-to-day life as well as their relationships with others and performance at work, school, and home. MDD deeply affects how you feel, think, and behave.

While MDD produces various symptoms, they don’t all have to occur at the same time for a doctor to diagnose someone. Common unipolar depression symptoms include:

  • A depressed mood lasts for the majority of the day
  • Decreased interest in pleasurable or daily activities
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or shame
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Unintentional and extreme fluctuations in weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Psychomotor agitation (movements with no purpose)
  • Psychomotor impairment, or difficulty thinking, speaking, and doing other everyday things
  • Frequents thoughts of death or suicide

Most people with MDD usually experience multiple symptoms and episodes of depression in their lifetime. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day. For someone to be diagnosed with depression, they must experience five or more of the symptoms mentioned above within the same 2-week period, and at least one of the symptoms should be depressed mood or loss of interest in activities.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Also called dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder is a long-term form of depression. In a comparison between persistent vs. major depressive disorder, they share symptoms like loss of interest in normal daily activities, hopelessness, lack of productivity, low self-esteem, and an overall feeling of inadequacy and emptiness. In people with dysthymia, these symptoms may last for years and significantly impair their relationships, social life, and performance at school, work, and home.

People with dysthymia usually find it difficult to be upbeat, even in happy moments. They might be described as having gloomy personalities, self-pitying, and incapable of having fun. Of course, those who think this way aren’t usually aware of the person’s condition, and unfortunately, it’s this kind of mentality regarding mental illness that leads to stigma.

Symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are similar to those of MDD, but their duration and pattern of occurrence vary. Common dysthymia symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Frequent fatigue and lack of energy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-criticism or feeling incapable
  • Trouble concentrating and decision making
  • Irritability or excessive anger
  • Major changes in mood and behavior
  • Decreased activity, efficacy, and productivity
  • Avoidance of social activities
  • Withdrawal and isolation from loved ones
  • Feelings of guilt and worries over the past
  • Poor appetite or overeating and fluctuations in weight
  • Sleep problems

As with depression, causes of dysthymia may include biological differences, family history of mental illness, changes in brain chemistry, life events, and more. Early-onset persistent depressive disorder is also more common than late-onset, according to research. Individuals with early-onset dysthymia have also been shown to have experienced more depressive episodes.1

With this in mind, it’s important to seek out mental health treatment the moment you begin to notice any signs of MDD or PDD in yourself or a loved one. Banyan’s mental health program in Boca offers a variety of treatment methods that can help you or someone you care about recover.

Major vs. Persistent Depressive Disorder: How Are They Different?

The difference between major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder can be found in how they’re diagnosed, duration of symptoms, and severity of symptoms. Major depression differs from dysthymic disorder. To be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, a person has to experience symptoms almost every day within two weeks, while a dysthymia diagnosis occurs in people who experience symptoms for at least two years.

Additionally, comparisons of major depressive disorder vs. persistent depressive disorder find that dysthymia is a milder form of MDD. Major depressive disorder is a much more severe form of depression to the point where it can make someone feel unable to get out of bed, perform basic hygiene, or eat enough.

The duration of symptoms is also different. While major depression can last a long time, depressive episodes tend to come and go. On the other hand, PDD is termed persistent because relief from symptoms is usually brief and limited. The condition itself usually lasts two years. This means that people with major depression may feel normal for long periods between depressive episodes, while people with persistent depressive disorder may always feel at least an underlying sense of depression.

Our Depression Treatment Can Help

Regardless of whether you have MDD or PDD, both conditions can be impairing and difficult to manage without professional care. Depression of any level is a life-changing condition that requires the steady, constant, and evidence-based treatment offered at Banyan Mental Health.

If you or someone you care about has depression or any other form of mental illness, our PHP or residential mental health program can help. Our specialists take the time to get to know our clients and determine which care plans work best for them. We will work with you or a loved one every step of the way to set them up for a happy and successful life after treatment.

For more information about our mental illness treatment in Boca Raton, call Banyan Treatment Center today at 888-280-4763.

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Alyssa is Banyan’s Director of Digital Marketing & Technology. After overcoming her own struggles with addiction, she began working in the treatment field in 2012. She graduated from Palm Beach State College in 2016 with additional education in Salesforce University programs. A part of the Banyan team since 2016, Alyssa brings over 5 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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