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Major Depressive Disorder vs. Persistent Depressive Disorder

Everyone experiences sadness from time to time. When life throws us a tragic, unexpected curveball we can find ourselves alone in a dark place we never intended to be.

For many people, these bleak feelings of gloom and doom pass as we work through challenging obstacles. However, for others, these feelings only get worse over time. Instead of slowly dissipating as months go on, they find themselves stuck in a never-ending cycle of sorrow, hopelessness, and disconnection from the world around them.

When this happens it is called depression, and it is much more complex than simply feeling blue.

While depression can take on different forms, Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder are two of the most common. These terms are used interchangeably yet have quite different characteristics.

Let us talk about the difference between the two so you can gain a better understanding of what may be going on internally.

Depression: An Umbrella Term

Depression is a broad, umbrella term used to describe the many faces this serious mood disorder can take on.

However, the word “depression” is defined as any condition that involves a significant lowering of an individual’s mood. Depression is characterised by a persistent feeling of sadness and a loss of interest or enjoyment in life activities.

It is estimated that 5% of people globally suffer from some form of depression. In fact, there are nearly 9 different types of depression!

  • Bipolar 1 and 2: These disorders involve mood swings that range from extremely high, upbeat, motivated periods of time (mania) to extremely low, apathetic, miserable periods of time (depression).
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: Thought of as a milder form of bipolar, cyclothymic disorder involves less intense mood swings ranging from mania to depression.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder: Manifesting 7 days before a woman’s period, until 3 days after, this form of depression is caused by fluctuating hormones.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder: Many people experience severe depression during colder months, however symptoms reside during the summer.
  • Postpartum Depression: Caused by a sudden drop in hormones after childbirth, mixed with limited sleep, and a major shift in life responsibilities, many new mums experience postpartum depression.
  • Atypical Depression: Incredibly misunderstood and under researched, atypical depression feels like an extreme heaviness in an individual’s arms and legs, almost like paralysis.

No matter how your depression presents itself, there is one commonality: it is more than simply feeling sad. The symptoms that follow can affect the way you think, feel, and live your life.

Now that we’ve covered the other forms of depression, let’s dive into Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder vs. Persistent Depressive Disorder
What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), otherwise called ‘clinical depression’ is a form of depression that can be diagnosed after symptoms are present for more than 2 weeks.

MDD is characterised by:

  • A low, depressed mood
  • Little interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Changes in weight
  • Changes in sleep
  • Exhaustion
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Feeling numb
  • Feeling hopeless

MDD can be severe, and result in thoughts or actions related to suicide, self-harm, or death. It can make it nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning, let alone practice personal hygiene or take care of responsibilities. Individuals suffering from MDD might struggle with keeping a job, doing well academically, or maintaining healthy relationships.

What Is Persistent Depressive Disorder?

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), otherwise known as dysthymia, is a more chronic, “always there” form of depression. It can range from mild, moderate, to severe symptoms.

To be diagnosed with PDD, symptoms must be present for over 2 years. Since many individuals that end up being diagnosed with PDD have struggled for so long, they often find coping techniques that allow them to go to work, socialise, and keep up with their personal care just enough to get by.

PDD is characterised by:

  • Overall feelings of sadness
  • Loss of interest in life
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Anger or irritability
  • Feeling guilty
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Exhaustion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory loss

Since Persistent Depressive Disorder is a long-term condition, it can greatly impact an individual’s physical health, social life, family life, and other relationships.

How Are Major Depression and Persistent Depressive Disorder Different?

Length Of Time

Psychologists and medical professionals alike often use the diagnosis of PDD to explain an individual who experiences clinical depression over an extended period.

So, the easiest difference to spot between the two is the length of time symptoms have been present.

Major Depressive Disorder can be diagnosed after 2 weeks of feeling low moods, exhaustion, and defeat. Many people find these symptoms go away after a few weeks or months. If symptoms persist for over 2 years, a diagnosis of PDD can be made.


In addition, PDD and MDD differ in terms of severity. Whilst those with major depression may not suffer as long, they often are hit with more intense, debilitating symptoms.

Meanwhile, those with PDD; while symptoms can be severe, are often living with a chronic low-grade form of depression.

Mood Baselines Between Episodes

People who suffer from persistent depression can still experience episodes of major depression. In between episodes they then return to a less severe but still present form of depression.

In contrast, individuals with MDD may experience similar phenomena yet return to a normal mood baseline, in between in which they do not experience any form of depression at all.

Key Takeaways

Depression is an umbrella term. It is broad enough to encompass all forms of any condition in which a person may feel extremely low moods, fatigue, loss of pleasure or difficulty enjoying activities they once did. While depression comes in different forms, Major Depressive Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder are the most common. MDD is often a harsher form of depression that lasts in short-term bouts, while PDD is often milder, yet lasts long-term.

If you feel as though you may be experiencing depression in any form, it is encouraged to seek help from a mental health professional. Nobody deserves to sit in a dark place all alone. Understanding your symptoms and what form your depression may be taking on can help you get on a journey to a happier, healthier you.

Orchestrate Health offers bespoke mental health services that people can access from the comfort of their own home or within their community, with rapid response times and even daily visits if needed. Orchestrate Health can provide help for those struggling with depression, and remove the inconvenience of travelling to and from appointments.


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