Chronic Depression: Definition & Signs

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
This lesson discusses what chronic depression is and how it can be recognized by its signs and symptoms. The DSM definition is given, the criteria given in the DSM are discussed, and treatment options are described.

The Warning Signs of Depression

James remembers never having trouble sleeping. In the past, as soon as his head hit the pillow, he used to fall asleep and not wake up until his alarm went off the next morning. But recently, he has been waking up at night, worried about something. He's also had trouble falling asleep because his brain can be too active. When he thinks about it, James realizes that this has actually been happening for a couple of years.

James knows that he has been depressed at times, but during these periods, he did not understand the extent to which he was depressed. James starts to notice that he has a nervous stomach, meaning he feels somewhat nauseous much of the time. He has also been less socially active than before: he just wants to be by himself, but he sometimes makes himself go out with friends because he hates the loneliness he feels.

When is it Chronic Depression?

James is experiencing the symptoms of chronic depression which can be broken down into a simple definition. When something is chronic, it is long lasting. Depression is the state of feeling hopeless and sad. There are varying levels of depression (major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder and others), and chronic depression, or dysthymia, is one of those levels.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) published by the American Psychiatric Association, dysthymia is ''a depressed mood that occurs for most of the day, for more days than not, for at least two years.'' This condition has been renamed persistent depressive disorder in the new edition (version five) of the DSM. The fact that James has felt this way for an extended period of time, and in fact feels this way most of the time, meets the most basic criteria for chronic depression.

How Do You Know it's Chronic Depression and Not Something Else?

Every disorder listed in the DSM-V is identified using certain criteria, which must be largely met before professionals can be certain of the correct diagnosis. The signs of chronic depression are:

  • Trouble focusing or just sitting still.
  • Frequent irritation, even at small things.
  • Energy is low most of the time.
  • Often eating too much or too little unrelated to a planned diet.
  • Hobbies and other things that used to interest you no longer capture your attention.
  • You are usually sad and feel lonely, even if people are around.
  • Sleep is disrupted frequently or you sleep too much.

As we learned from the DSM definition, these feelings indicate chronic depression if they have been occurring for two years or more and happen more often than not.

Treatment for Chronic Depression

James listened as his counselor told him about the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder, and they seemed to mirror his experiences. He was happier knowing there was a name for what he was feeling, but he wanted to find help.

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