A “depression attack” isn’t a clinically recognized term, but it could refer to a sudden and intense episode of depression symptoms.
You may have heard or used the expression yourself. And no doubt what you feel is real and valid. But clinicians and experts may not call it a “depression attack.” In fact, people with depression don’t have “attacks” or sudden paralyzing symptoms.
Instead, it’s possible that your depression symptoms intensify under some circumstances or that you may be experiencing an episode of depression, grief, or melancholy.
A “depression attack” isn’t an official or clinically recognized term.
You could, however, experience episodes of depression, or if you’ve lived with the condition for a while, you could go through periods of time when your existing symptoms intensify.
Depression doesn’t typically occur suddenly. But it may be possible that if you live with the condition, a significantly distressing event may intensify your symptoms and make them feel as if they came on out of the blue.
It’s also possible for many people to miss the early signs of depression and don’t realize what they’re experiencing until symptoms become severe.
Clinical depression, formally known as major depressive disorder, is diagnosed when you experience most of the following symptoms, most of the time, for 2 weeks or longer:
- low mood that can be manifest as sadness, irritability, emptiness, or hopelessness
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- changes in eating patterns (eating more or less than usual) which may lead to weight loss or gain
- sleeping too much or too little
- difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of motivation and fatigue
- restlessness or walking and talking faster or slower than your usual
Episodes of depression can be managed. And, although there’s currently no cure for depression, treatment is effective and can provide relief from your symptoms.
Only a mental health professional can accurately diagnose depression.
Episodes of depression in bipolar disorder
Major depressive disorder is sometimes referred to as unipolar depression. This means symptoms tend to be consistent for a long time or intensify gradually, particularly if you aren’t receiving treatment.
But other conditions can also present with episodes of depression. This is the case of bipolar disorder, for example.
When you live with bipolar disorder, you may experience changes in your mood that go from depression to mania (or hypomania).
During episodes of mania, you feel euphoric and full of energy. You may have a lessened need for sleep and could act in ways that may jeopardize your safety.
During episodes of depression in bipolar disorder, you may experience many of the above-mentioned symptoms of clinical depression.
Depending on the type of bipolar disorder, you may experience both episodes of mania and depression, or you could experience mania and hypomania mainly.
Although the transition is gradual, if you’ve been feeling manic for a while, experiencing an episode of depression can feel sudden and disconcerting, particularly if you don’t know much about the condition. This may lead some people to refer to these experiences as “depression attacks.”
It’s also possible that you experience severe depression symptoms when coming out of a manic episode if you have to come to terms with the potential negative consequences of some of your manic behaviors.
Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear that manifest with symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom.
These panic attacks can happen once in a lifetime or, when they’re recurring, they could signal a condition called panic disorder.
Panic attacks aren’t symptoms of depression and untreated depression doesn’t cause panic attacks. They could, however, co-exist.
For some folks living with panic attacks, these are so disruptive that they may significantly impact the quality of their lives. This, in turn, could lead to symptoms of depression.
You could have both panic disorder and depression or bipolar disorder.
Panic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. Symptoms of anxiety disorders and depressive disorders often overlap.
In fact, studies show that anywhere between 45% and 60% of people with major depressive disorder also have a co-occurring anxiety disorder. An older paper from 1996 states that
In some instances, experiencing a panic attack may leave you fatigued and drained. If you live with depression already, this may make you feel your symptoms have intensified.
Learning to identify what you feel may be the first step toward developing coping skills for what you may think is a depression attack.
Are you experiencing depression symptoms that seem to have come out of nowhere? Or is what you’re feeling more similar to anxiety or panic?
If you’re not sure, or need support working on self-awareness and managing your symptoms, consider talking with a mental health professional. Besides helping you explore what you feel, they can also recommend a plan that works for your specific case.
If you’d like to work on self-care as well, mindfulness is an evidence-based strategy that may help you manage both anxiety and depression symptoms.
Mindfulness and meditation can also help you decrease the chance of panic attacks and intense depression episodes.
Sudden and intense mood symptoms may feel like an “attack” of some kind. But depression attack isn’t a clinical term. Instead, you may be going through an episode of depression if you live with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
You could also experience panic attacks that may leave you confused and feeling low.
Both depression and anxiety can be managed and seeking out the help of a mental health professional is highly advisable.