Does depression come in waves? (5 ways to cope)


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Page last updated: 20/09/2022

Does depression come in waves? (5 ways to cope)

Does Depression come in waves?

To answer the question, “Does depression come in waves?”, the answer is yes… it can be felt in waves, also known as episodes. There are different types of depressive disorders. Some of these are manifested in an episodic form where a person feels alright or even elevated one day, and extremely low on the other. Usually, when depression combines with another psychiatric illness, it is more likely to be seen in waves. For example: bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder etcetera. 


This blog will address the question, “does depression come in waves?”. We will start by first understanding depression, looking at various ways it can present in, talking about the waves or episodes of depression, and finally, how to cope with these episodes. 

Understanding depression

Depression is a persistent and all pervasive feeling of sadness, irritability or low mood, that is accompanied by loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, sleep, appetite and weight related changes, etc. 

It is thus a mood related disorder that has both behavioural, as well as affective implications. Although everybody goes through sadness and grief, it is when these feelings cause distress that negatively impact the functioning of the person, and cause significant impairment in the person’s life that is can be characterised as a clinical disorder. 

These symptoms or signs usually have to persist for over two weeks to be considered a psychiatric disorder. 

Some symptom of depression-

  • Pervasive feelings of sadness, or irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite disturbances
  • Weight loss or gain- excessive
  • Dark moods which may  be unexplainable
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation
  • Inability to focus or pay attention
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities (anhedonia)
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Difficulty getting out of bed, or going through normal activities

It is important to note that each individual is unique and different. With the uniqueness of each individual, the way they experience psychiatric disorders may also differ. While one person may feel or experience depression in a certain way, another person may have a whole different experience of the same disorder. 

There is no clear cut way of how a person ‘should’ feel. If the feelings of grief, sadness or irritability impact your life in a drastic manner, and interfere with your personal, social, occupational or interpersonal life, you must seek help and reach out to someone in your life. 

Does depression come in waves? (5 ways to cope)

Different types of depression

While depression is an all pervasive feeling of sadness, it may manifest in various forms. Some of these are discussed as follows:

Major depressive disorder

It is often known as major depression, or unipolar depression. It is one of the most common psychiatric disorders. People with MDD experience symptoms most of the day, every day. It is the most persistent and pervasive form of depression. A person suffering from MDD may look like they have their life together, but still feel unexplainable bouts of dark mood or  sadness. 

Not having a concrete reason for your sadness may make these feelings seem invalid, but it is as real as situational grief. While some people may have only a single episode of depression. Others may experience it throughout their life. 

Major depression can last for weeks or even months. Irrespective of its duration it can cause severe interpersonal, social and occupational problems, and may adversely affect your day to day functioning.  


Dysthymia or dysthymic disorder is characterised by a longer duration of depressive symptoms, that are relatively mild in nature. While in this case the depressive symptoms do not incapacitate a person, or impact a person’s functioning very adversely, they can however prevent the person’s enjoyment of their life, or prevent them from feeling good or leading a good life. 

While such individuals suffer from dysthymia, they may also have an additional episode of severe depression in between. Dysthymic disorder makes it all that harder for that person to seek help, as they seem normal and functional on the outside, but struggle on the inside. It may be hard for them to identify their own distress and seek help for the same. 

Atypical depression

Atypical depression, also known as depression with atypical features, means that your depressed mood can in fact manifest in a way that you brighten in response to positive events. The symptoms experienced are also towards the increased end of the spectrum, for instance, increased appetite, sleeping too much, feeling heavy, or rejected. 

It is characterised by depression that lifts temporarily in response to positive or good events, weight gain, sensitivity to rejection etc. the name atypical suggests the manifestation of symptoms being different from normal depression, and not a low prevalence, as despite the name atypical, it is fairly common. 

Manic depression/ or bipolar depression

Manic depression, or more prominently known as bipolar depression, is characterised by a cyclical form of depressive episodes, followed by periods of mania or hypomania. Mania refers to a period of elevated mood and excitability with grandiose thoughts, decreased need for sleep and psychomotor agitation such that it interferes with your daily life.

 Hypomania is the milder form of mania with slightly less extreme symptoms, and less interference with daily life. Bipolar disorder is cyclical in nature, that is periods of depressive episodes are followed by that of mania or hypomania. Mood swings are fairly common, and periods of an elevated high are followed by a becoming low.  

Depressive psychosis

The clinical term for depressive psychosis is major depressive disorder with psychotic features. Psychosis refers to losing touch with reality. Sometimes, individuals suffering from MDD end up losing touch with reality as well. They may start experiencing delusions or hallucination which are features of psychotic disorders.

A diagnosis of major depressive disorder with psychotic features or depressive psychosis is given when psychotic features are experienced during the duration of major depressive disorder or episode. 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD is a very extreme form of premenstrual syndrome which is commonly known as PMS. while PMS symptoms can be both psychological as well as physical, PMDD symptoms tend to be most psychological in nature. 

Common symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder include feelings of sadness and depression before the menstruation period starts. other symptoms may include extreme muscle pain, bloating, cramps or breast tenderness, headaches, along with muscle pain.. symptoms like sadness, despair, irritability and anger may  also be experienced.

It is believed to be related to hormonal changes and the symptoms begin just after ovulation and start to ease up once you get your period. 

The waves or episodes of depression

As discussed  above depression can come in waves, that is, it can be experienced in episodes. the most common form of episodic depression can be seen in Manic depression or bipolar disorder where  depressive episodes are followed by a period of an elevated high known as manic or hypomanic this case depression can feel like it is coming in waves where the person feels like they are on a high one day and derail down the next. 

Other cases where the depression can feel like it is coming in waves is when the depression is situational, that is, dependent on the person’s life stressors. When the depression episode is in response to the trauma that person is experiencing in their life it is called situational, and it may occur suddenly In response to the person’s environmental pressures. 

Dysthymic disorder can also make the depression seem  like it is coming in  waves because the symptoms are relatively mild. the person may feel relatively normal one day and may feel the brunt of their symptoms  the next day which makes the depression or sadness feel like a wave that is suddenly hitting them.

Coping with these episodes 

Before we delve into the subject of coping with depressive episodes it is recommended that you seek professional help if your symptoms feel overwhelming and feel like they are interfering with your daily life. 

If you know anybody around you who may be experiencing such symptoms kindly reach out to them and urge them to seek professional help. discussed as follows a some ways to cope with depressive episodes: 

  1. Surround yourself with people that you can reach out to and that support you so that you do not feel socially isolated
  1.  exercise routinely and eat a healthy diet
  1.  make to do lists for the day as well as the week and try to stick to them
  1.  Indulge in self care activities
  1.  keep a diary of some sort to monitor when your depression feels like it is coming back and try to manage it just as it begins and outline a pattern if there is any

BetterHelp: A Better Alternative

Those who are seeking therapy online may also be interested in BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers plenty of formats of therapy, ranging from live chats, live audio sessions and live video sessions. In addition, unlimited messaging through texting, audio messages and even video messages are available here.

BetterHelp also offers couples therapy and therapy for teenagers in its platform. Furthermore, group sessions can also be found in this platform, covering more than twenty different topics related to mental health and mental illness. The pricing of BetterHelp is also pretty cost-effective, especially considering the fact that the platform offers financial aid to most users.


In this blog we discussed what depression looks like, what are the different types of depression, if depression can in fact come in waves, and how to deal with episodes of depression. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Does Depression come in waves?

What age has the highest rate of depression?

The prevalence of depression is the highest among the ‘young adults’ age range, i.e., 18-25 year olds. 

What is the number one cause of depression?

There is no clear cut since leading causes of depression, it may vary person to person, and even culture to culture. The most common risk factors are: genetics, environmental stressors, vulnerable or a sad premorbid personality, presence of other psychiatric disorders like substance abuse or anxiety, etc. 

What are the different types of depression?

As have been discussed above, different types of depression include major depressive disorder, dysthymia, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, disruptive dysregulation disorder, atypical depression, manic depression etc. 

What gender is most affected by depression?

Women are two times more likely than men to be depressed.

Who is most likely to be depressed?

Females , especially young adults, are the most likely to be depressed. 

Does depression count as a disability?

When depression becomes so severe that it interferes with day to day activities, and disrupts the individual’s social, personal, or occupational life, it may be termed as a disability. 


[1]. Pietrangelo A., Legg T.J., (2018) 9 types of depression and how to recognize them. Healthline. 

[2]. Agboola J., (2020) Is it normal for depression to come in waves? Quora. 

[3]. American Psychiatric Association (n.d.) What is depression?

[4]. Berry J., Legg T.J., (2018) How do I know I am feeling depressed? Medical News Today. 

[5]. Mayo Clinic (n.d.) Atypical Depression. 

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