Chronic Depression

Chronic depression is also referred to as dysthymic disorder, dysthymia, and mild or minor depression. This article helps define chronic depression and offers information on symptoms of chronic depression as well as the risks and treatment for chronic depression.

Chronic depression is another name for dysthymic disorder or dysthymia, also known as mild or minor depression. Dysthymia comes from a Greek word meaning “despondency,” and entered English through New Latin in the 1840s. This disorder affects nearly 11 million Americans 18 and older, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). This article provides an overview of dysthymia or chronic depression.

If you believe that you may be experiencing chronic depression, a visit with your doctor or a mental health professional, or a call to a mental health hotline if you need immediate assistance, is important. You could also choose to visit a medical facility or emergency room if you need help right now. No article can provide the insight and support that you can receive from someone with training and experience.

National Alliance on Mental Illness        National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-950-NAMI (6264)                         1-800-273-TALK (8255)

What Is Chronic Depression?

Chronic means “lasting a long time” or “ongoing,” and one of the features of chronic depression is that, unlike episodic depression, which passes, chronic depression goes on and on. Although chronic depression or dysthymia is milder than clinical depression, usually lasting at least two years and often much longer, often beginning in childhood, the relentless nature of the disorder can cause serious effects. People with dysthymia or chronic depression can function, but they’re unhappy virtually all the time.

What Are Symptoms of Chronic Depression?

Although chronic depression, like all other types of depression, is a mood disorder, and some of its most prominent symptoms are related specifically to mood, not all of its symptoms are. Depression also brings about changes in mental functioning, performance of daily activities, physical states, and sometimes thoughts as well.

Feelings: feelings of sadness, emptiness, and/or hopelessness; low self-esteem; pessimism; feeling of being worthless and feelings of guilt; depressed mood; loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

Mental functioning: difficulty concentrating; irritability; trouble making decisions; sluggishness

Daily Activities: difficulty sleeping, which may involve insomnia or oversleeping (hypersomnia); changes to appetite, either increase or decrease

Physical State: fatigue or general lack of energy; physical symptoms including aches, pains, headaches, or other problems that are unresponsive to treatment; sluggishness

Thoughts: consideration of suicide or death

What Risks Are Associated with Chronic Depression?

People who are experiencing chronic depression and have not sought treatment can have episodes of major depression at the same time. This situation is sometimes referred to as double depression. Dysthymia can also co-occur with other mood or psychiatric disorders.

What Are the Treatments for Chronic Depression?

Like most other types of depression, chronic depression is most frequently treated with a counseling, medications, or a combination of the two. Counseling may include cognitive behavioral therapy and/or interpersonal therapy. Medications may include antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).

It takes several weeks for an effective dose of medication to build up in the body, and there is likely to be a period of time during which the dose and possibly the choice of medication or a combination of medications is tried to work out which is the best choice. It is also necessary to act gradually when stopping any of these medications. Be sure to consult your physician before stopping any of these medications.

A primary care physician may handle the treatment, or a psychologist or other mental health professional may be involved. Coming to understand appropriate lifestyle choices and learning skills that are particularly geared for coping with dysthymia may also be part of a treatment plan. Therapy may be handled on an individual basis or, depending on the situation, "family or group therapy may be found to provide a useful context. Joining a support group may also be a helpful choice.

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