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What qualifies as a major depressive episode?

What Qualifies As A Major Depressive Episode?

The definition of a major depressive episode is a “period of depression that persists for at least two weeks.” The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that depression is “characterized by persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities,” resulting in significant impairment in one’s daily life. Depression is common, and many people will experience one or more episodes of depression in their lifetime. The signs and symptoms of a depressive episode are more severe than the symptoms that may accompany normal periods of a low mood. The Mayo Clinic provides the following examples of signs and symptoms that can present during a major depressive episode:

  • Inability to experience pleasure or loss of interest in social activities
  • Irritability
  • Crying spells (frequent and random crying throughout the day)
  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of energy
  • The shift in sleeping habits (either sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia)
  • Slowed behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of excessive guilt
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Indecisiveness
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Lack of energy
  • The shift in appetite results in drastic weight loss or weight gain

Every teenager is different and will experience a distinct combination of symptoms when it comes to a major depressive episode. Some young people who experience frequent depressive episodes may be struggling with a depressive disorder, such as major depressive disorder (MDD).

Major Depressive Disorder: DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

To be diagnosed with major depression, a young person’s symptoms must fit the criteria outlined in the DSM-5. An adolescent must be experiencing five or more of the following symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure:

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.
  2. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.
  3. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.
  4. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).
  5. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.
  6. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.
  7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.
  8. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

These symptoms must cause the young person clinically significant distress or impairment in social, educational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition.

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, in the long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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