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What is Chronic Depression?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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The persistent presentation of mild depressive symptoms that lasts for at least two years is known as chronic depression. Similar to other types of depression, symptoms associated with chronic depression have the potential to seriously impact an individual’s ability to function and adversely affect numerous aspects of his or her life, including personal relationships and employment. Affecting an estimated 3.3 million people in the United States alone, chronic depression is often treated with the administration of medication and psychotherapy.

In the absence of a single, known cause for the development of chronic depression, also known as dysthymia, there are several factors that may contribute to its manifestation. Over the years, research has consistently supported the assertion that some people may possess a genetic predisposition for dysthymia. Other studies have indicated that chemical imbalance may contribute to the development of this type of depression. Consistent situational and environmental factors in one’s life, such as emotional trauma and intense stress, may also trigger dysthymic symptoms.

When dysthymia is suspected, a complete blood count (CBC) is generally ordered to check for markers indicative of an underlying condition that may contribute to the individual’s symptoms, such as thyroid dysfunction. An extensive psychological examination is generally performed to inventory the individual’s condition, including his or her behaviors and symptoms. Information obtained during the psychological evaluation may then be used as a diagnostic tool to establish whether the individual meets the criteria for a diagnosis of chronic depression as established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Chronically depressed individuals often experience a diverse range of symptoms. Frequently, individuals will exhibit pronounced mood swings, poor self-image, and apathy. Isolating behaviors, such as purposely avoiding social situations, are another common manifestation of depression. A dysthymic condition may also cause a person to adopt an abnormally critical view of him or herself, inducing feelings of guilt, anxiety, and intense anger.

If left undiagnosed and untreated, chronic depression can have a debilitating effect on an individual’s quality of life. Persistent low moods can progressively worsen, contributing to the onset of major depression and one’s vulnerability to suicidal behavior. A depressed individual may also experience tremendous difficulty sustaining gainful employment. Self-medicating tendencies frequently manifest in chronically depressed individuals, which can lead to drug and alcohol abuse further complicating his or her situation.

Treatment for chronic depression is generally dependent on several factors, including the severity of one’s symptoms. In many cases, an antidepressant medication may be prescribed to stabilize the individual’s mood. Psychotherapy is frequently recommended in combination with the administration of psychiatric medications. The therapeutic approach utilized is dependent on the needs of the individual and may involve the use of cognitive or behavioral therapies, or a combination of the two, giving the individual an opportunity to better understand his or her condition, symptoms, and behavior.

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Discussion Comments
By indigomoth — On Jan 13, 2014

@pleonasm - That's been my experience. I started treatment for severe chronic depression about six months ago now and I was absolutely amazed by the difference once we found the right combination of medication. I'd been depressed for over a decade and had just thought of it as a normal condition.

With the medication I've been able to make progress that didn't even occur to me before. I will never regret going onto it, although I am hoping to eventually come off again.

By pleonasm — On Jan 12, 2014

@irontoenail - To some extent, I agree with you. The thing is, though, once you start feeling that chronic anxiety and depression it makes it extremely difficult to make friends with anyone. It makes me want to withdraw and stay in bed all day. It makes me feel sad all the time and no one is going to want to befriend a person who is constantly weeping into their coffee in the break room.

So I do think that medication can provide that stepping stone for people who are struggling with depression, so that they can build their own little community and get all the other things into their lives that can naturally treat the depression (like exercise, good food and creative and meaningful work).

By irontoenail — On Jan 12, 2014

Personally, I think that the disappearance of the village and the extended family are the main reasons for chronic depression. People are just built to have the support of a lot of other people. Sometimes they can fill that gap with workmates, but often these days people don't stick in the same job for a long time and don't make those sorts of relationships.

You end up with only a small handful of people you know really well and you might not see them very often. Whereas for millions of years humans have lived in largish, close-knit groups or villages where everyone knew and supported everyone else.

I don't think every form of depression is caused by this, but I do think many people are treating their chronic depression symptoms with medication when they should be considering getting more personal relationships into their lives.

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