Healthcare professionals use “unspecified depressive disorder” when they recognize depressive symptoms, but don’t have enough information for a precise diagnosis.

There are several different types of depression. When you have depressive symptoms, your healthcare professional uses certain criteria to help determine what type you have.

If you don’t meet the criteria for a specific depressive disorder, you may receive a diagnosis of “unspecified depressive disorder.” This is usually a diagnosis given with the plan to continue to try to narrow down the diagnosis to a more specific one.

This allows your doctor or therapist to find the right treatment approach for your individual condition.

“Unspecified depressive disorder” is a diagnostic term. It means you show symptoms characteristic of a depressive disorder, but they don’t meet the specific criteria for more common depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder or persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, text revision (DSM-5-TR), the symptoms must cause “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

Though you may not meet the full criteria for a specific depressive disorder, depressive symptoms can still significantly impact your work or school life, relationships, and other aspects of daily life.

The difference between specified and unspecified depressive disorder

With “unspecified depressive disorder,” healthcare professionals don’t have enough information to make a specific diagnosis. They don’t specify the exact reason criteria aren’t met for a specific depressive disorder.

When they do choose to specify the reason criteria aren’t met, they use “other specified depressive disorder.” Reasons may include:

  • recurrent brief depression
  • short-duration depressive episode
  • depressive episode with insufficient symptoms
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Diagnostic manuals, such as the DSM-5-TR, do not list specific symptom criteria for unspecified depressive disorder. Symptoms include those that are specified for depressive disorders in general.

With unspecified depressive disorder, you may experience:

  • persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • sleep problems
  • loss of energy or fatigue
  • physical aches and pains
  • hopelessness, worthlessness, or excessive guilt
  • restlessness or slowed movements
  • thoughts of death or suicide

Help is out there

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, remember that you’re not alone and resources are available to you. If you need to talk with someone right away, you can:

Not in the U.S.? You can find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.

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There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for unspecified depressive disorder. Everyone’s symptoms, needs, and experiences are different.

Sometimes it takes a combination of treatments to get relief. Research from 2023 shows that combination treatment, including both medications and psychotherapy, is more effective than either of these treatments alone.

Treatments may include:

  • Psychotherapy: Therapies, such as interpersonal therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can help you manage depressive symptoms. In CBT, you work with a therapist to identify and modify unhelpful thinking and behavior patterns that can contribute to changes in mood.
  • Medications: Theseinclude antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications. You may need to try different medications to find the one that’s most effective for you.
  • Exercise: According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), aerobic exercise can help improve your mood by increasing endorphins and stimulating the hormone norepinephrine.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Other lifestyle changes can also be helpful, such as eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and practicing stress management techniques like mindfulness or deep breathing exercises. It’s also important to foster social connections and healthy relationships.
  • Light therapy: This is a type of therapy that exposes you to artificial light. It helps regulate the hormone melatonin, which may help improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Complementary and alternative approaches: You may also benefit from things like meditation, acupuncture, and certain supplements. These treatments alone may not be enough to treat depression, so be sure to ask your doctor about combining them with other therapies.
  • Support: Interventions, such as group therapy, online support groups, and self-help programs can provide guidance and help you feel less alone on the road to recovery.

If you’re diagnosed with unspecified depressive disorder, it means your depressive symptoms don’t meet the full criteria for a specific depressive disorder. But they can still significantly impact your daily life and relationships.

There are a number of treatments that can help relieve depressive symptoms, from medication to therapy to lifestyle changes. It may take some trial and error, but working with your doctor, you can find the combination of treatments that works best for you.

If you need help identifying a qualified professional consider using this FindCare tool to help locate a doctor or mental health professional.