Chronic Depression is an ongoing condition that is apparent in 10 to 20% of patients who suffer from depressive disorders. This form of depression extends over a period of at least two years and incorporates symptoms very similar to those typically present in cases of major depression.
Chronic depression is categorised by lengthy episodes of depression which are separated by short interludes of normal functioning. The exact causes of the condition are not known, but are thought to include factors such as anxiety, a history of abuse, brain chemical imbalances and a family history of the disorder.
In addition, certain chronic physical illnesses and hormonal imbalances are also thought to aggravate the onset of chronic depression.
Dysthymic Disorder or Dysthymia as it is sometimes called is a one particularly debilitating and rather common sub-type of chronic depression. Previously referred to as depressive neurosis, this type of chronic depression is far more prominent in women than it is in men. It features a low mood for the majority of the day, on most days over a period of at least two years. In addition to feeling constantly disheartened, individuals must simultaneously also exhibit at least two of the following six symptoms:
• A significant increase or decrease in appetite.
• Sleep disturbances, insomnia or a tendency to oversleep most of the time.
• Incredibly low energy levels.
• Low self esteem or a sense of worthlessness.
• Indecisiveness and the inability to concentrate on simple tasks.
• Feelings of hopelessness and despair.
As is the case with other forms of chronic depression, the onset of Dysthymic Disorder is usually gradual as opposed to acute. This makes it less apparent and recognisable than other forms of depression, and as a result those suffering from the disorder may go for years without being diagnosed or treated. Sufferers of the disorder usually appear aloof, unapproachable and incredibly angry with the world. They spend the better part of their lives in a constant state of monotonous despair which after a while often becomes a way of life for them.
In Greek, the word Dysthymia means 'poor humour' or a 'bad state of mind.' One sufferer of Dysthymic Disorder compared living with Dysthymia to having ones life covered by a thick film which causes the entire world to look grey and uninviting on a daily basis. Although suicidal thoughts are not listed as an official symptom of Dysthymia, individuals suffering from the disorder who never receive treatment for their condition are often eventually driven to making suicide attempts on their own lives. It is thus essential that the disorder be recognised and treated as soon as possible, either with antidepressants, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.