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Atypical Depression

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Atypical Depression

(Depression with Atypical Features)


Depression is a lasting low mood and lack of interest in doing things. In atypical depression, mood may improve for a short time. There are other symptoms that often do not occur with depression.


The exact cause of atypical depression is not known. It is probably due to changes in brain chemistry. Genes and environment likely play a role.

The Brain.

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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this condition are:

  • Prior mental illness
  • Drug or alcohol use disorder
  • Long term illness, such as cancer
  • Stress or trauma
  • Depression runs in the family
  • A history of abuse
  • Certain medicines
  • Lack of support


People with atypical depression have depression with short periods of improved mood. Mood gets better when something positive happens. It then goes back to being low. Other symptoms may be:

  • Eating too much
  • Sleeping too much
  • Arms or legs feel heavy
  • Feeling rejected


There are no tests to diagnose this condition. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history.

The doctor may give questionnaires. A physical exam and other tests may be done. They can help rule out other causes.


The goal is to improve mood and ease other symptoms. Options are:

  • Medicines for depression—they may take 2 to 6 weeks to work best
  • Counseling —to help with coping
  • Physical activity—to help ease symptoms


Depression cannot always be prevented. However, the risk of symptoms may be lowered by:

  • Getting mental health care, if needed
  • Finding supportive people
  • Learning skills to reduce stress
  • Getting plenty of sleep, exercise, and leisure
  • Not abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains




  • Atypical depression. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atypical-depression/basics/definition/con-20035114.
  • Depression in older adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/depression-in-older-adults.
  • Juruena MF, Bocharova M, et al. Atypical depression and non-atypical depression: Is HPA axis function a biomarker? A systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2018;233:45-67.
  • Major depressive disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/major-depressive-disorder-mdd.


  • Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.