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.