Endogenous depression is an old term that describes depression without any associated external factors. Today, this is not an official diagnosis, and symptoms often fall under the diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD).

MDD is a severe mood disorder that can cause extended periods of depressed mood. This can affect a person’s daily life in a number of ways.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

This article explores what people mean by “endogenous depression,” the difference between endogenous and exogenous depression, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments, and how to get help.

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Endogenous depression is an outdated diagnosis for some presentations of depression. Medical professionals once used the term to describe depression that occurred without the presence of any external stress or trauma.

Medical professionals no longer diagnose endogenous depression. Today, people refer to this type of depression as MDD. MDD is a severe mood disorder that causes a person to experience prolonged periods of depressed mood alongside various other symptoms.

MDD can affect a person’s daily life in several ways, such as causing changes to their appetite and sleep habits.

Medical professionals once used the terms “endogenous” and “exogenous” to conceptualize depression.

Endogenous means “from within.” This referred to depression that was not associated with external stress or trauma. Often, it would describe depression that was genetic in origin.

Exogenous means “from without.” This referred to depression that came from an external cause, such as a stressful or traumatic event.

Mental health professionals used to diagnose these two types of depression separately, as they believed they required different treatments.

Today, mental health professionals make a general MDD diagnosis based on a person’s individual symptoms.

If a person has MDD, they may experience a variety of symptoms.

Common symptoms of MDD include:

  • persistently low or depressed mood
  • an inability to feel pleasure
  • decreased interest in pleasurable activities
  • feelings of guilt
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • lack of energy
  • problems concentrating
  • changes to their appetite
  • agitation
  • problems sleeping
  • suicidal thoughts

A medical professional may diagnose someone with MDD if they experience MDD symptoms for a period of 2 weeks or more.

They may ask the person if they are:

  • losing interest and pleasure in all activities
  • experiencing disturbed sleep
  • feeling agitated
  • feeling like they have low self-worth
  • experiencing feelings of guilt or personal shortcomings
  • experiencing fatigue
  • experiencing changes to their appetite or weight
  • struggling to concentrate or make decisions
  • having suicidal thoughts

MDD is a serious illness that can dramatically affect a person’s life. However, the disorder can respond well to treatment.

A medical professional will first want to determine whether there is a medical or other cause for the person’s depression.

Once they have ruled out other causes, they will be able to treat the person’s symptoms with one of the following options.


There are a number of medications that a person can use to treat MDD. These include:

  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants often work by increasing the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, or both. Higher activity levels of these neurotransmitters can help regulate a person’s mood and behavior.
  • Mood stabilizers: These are medications that people commonly use to treat bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers can help reduce mood shifts and prevent a person from experiencing depressive episodes.
  • Antipsychotic medications: Antipsychotic medications can block some dopamine receptors in the brain. This can reduce the flow of messages across these receptors, which can reduce a person’s psychotic symptoms. If a person has MDD with psychotic features, their doctor may prescribe antipsychotic medications to treat their symptoms. As well as reducing symptoms of psychosis, some antipsychotic medications increase serotonin and have mood-lifting properties.

If a person takes antidepressant medications, they may need to wait for 4–8 weeks before they feel the effects.


Psychotherapy is the name for several types of “talk therapy.” During psychotherapy, a person will speak with a therapist to learn new ways of thinking and behaving.

Psychotherapy can help a person change certain habits that may be contributing to their MDD.

Common types of psychotherapy for MDD include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): During CBT, a therapist can help a person identify the connection among their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. CBT can help a person work to change harmful thoughts and behaviors to improve their MDD symptoms. Studies show that CBT is an effective treatment for depression and that using CBT alongside medication is significantly more effective than medication alone.
  • Family-focused therapy: In some cases, a person’s relationship with their family is important in helping manage their MDD symptoms. Family-focused therapy involves the person with MDD and their family members learning about the symptoms of MDD and the possible techniques for relieving these symptoms. Studies show that family-focused therapy is an effective treatment option for children with depression.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This is a treatment that emphasizes the role of interpersonal relationships in mental health. IPT can help a person understand how their MDD affects their relationships, mood, and communication. It can also help the person learn how to better manage these factors to improve their MDD symptoms.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

ECT is a treatment that uses electric currents to cause brief generalized seizures in a person’s brain.

ECT can change the way blood flows in the cerebrum. Researchers are not quite sure whether this can explain how ECT helps depression, and more research is necessary to prove a causal relationship between ECT and depression.

Studies show that ECT can be a very effective treatment for depression.

If a person receives ECT, they may need to undergo several sessions before they feel any of the effects of the treatment.

Lifestyle changes

A person may also wish to make lifestyle changes to boost their mood and improve their MDD symptoms. They may try:

  • getting regular physical activity
  • going to bed and waking up at a consistent time
  • eating regular, healthy meals
  • avoiding alcohol, nicotine, or recreational drugs
  • postponing important decisions until their MDD symptoms have subsided
  • trying to connect and talk with people

There are hotlines that a person with MDD can call. These hotlines offer free, confidential help from a trained professional. They operate 24 hours a day.

A person can call one of the following hotlines to talk with someone about their feelings and receive support.

  • Samaritans: Samaritans is a nonprofit organization that provides emotional support to people who have feelings of depression or loneliness or anyone that is considering suicide. Call or text 877-870-4673 (HOPE).
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A person can call 800-273-8255 (TALK) to speak with someone from this national network of local crisis centers.
  • Lifeline Chat: Lifeline Chat is an online chat service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Postpartum Support International: Postpartum Support International helps people who are experiencing postpartum depression or other mental health issues related to pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood. Call 800-944-4773.

MDD can affect different people in a number of ways. Some people may find that treatment can help resolve their symptoms within weeks or months. Other people may require treatment for MDD for years.

With appropriate treatment, 70–80% of people with MDD can significantly reduce their symptoms.

It may take a person time to find an effective treatment plan, and many people end up responding well to a combination of medication and other treatments, such as psychotherapy.

Endogenous depression is an old diagnosis that medical professionals no longer use.

Previously, medical professionals would diagnose someone with endogenous depression if they had depression that did not link to external factors. External factors included traumatic events or stressful life circumstances.

Today, endogenous depression is not an official diagnosis. Instead, medical professionals may diagnose people with MDD based on their symptoms.

MDD is a severe mood disorder that can cause symptoms such as persistently low or depressed mood, inability to feel pleasure, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts.

MDD can affect a person’s life by leading to a lack of energy, issues concentrating, appetite changes, and problems sleeping.

There are various treatment options for people with MDD, including medications, psychotherapy, ECT, and lifestyle changes.