Chronic Depression: Risk Factors, Symptoms & Treatment
Chronic depression is a lingering mental disorder characterized by a constant bad mood, lack of physical activity, health problems, and negative thoughts. The depressive disorder is considered chronic if its symptoms last two or more years.
Patients suffering from this mental disease are leading their usual lifestyle, the symptoms of the depressive condition are not pronounced, and people around the depressed person often don’t notice something is wrong. It increases the risk of such complications as more severe mental disorders or even suicide.
What causes chronic depression?
Scientists still don’t agree on the point of the causes of the chronic depressive disorder. They distinguish 2 main kinds of factors which can trigger chronic depression:
- Biological: low level of hormones which affect person’s mood and state of health can be a result of genetic predisposition, an infection, endocrine disorder or exhaustion.
- Psychological: any psychological trauma, a difficult situation or constant stress can cause chronic depression.
Experts reckon that, in the majority of cases, chronic depression develops because of continuous emotional stress, some specific personality traits, and general exhaustion. This mental disorder depends less on genetic inheritance and psychological trauma.
A lingering, chronic depressive disorder usually occurs in people under constant physical and emotional stress who don’t have an opportunity to rest and relax. Such kind of mental disorder can affect people spending a lot of time doing hard work or those who have to take care of seriously ill relatives, on the condition of lack of proper rest and sleep.
Chronic depression is wide-spread among responsible, conscientious, diligent people if they are living a lifestyle others force them to live. They voluntarily abandon their dreams, hobbies, and relationships.
The residents of big cities suffer from chronic depression more often: the fast pace of life in a city, high level of stress in social life, the lack of physical activity and sleep, and air pollution weaken our health and stress-resistance. All of these elements can become the reason for depressive disorders of various degree of severity.
Symptoms of chronic depression
A person with chronic depression often looks like they have a bad temper, are always displeased with everything or just unhappy without any apparent reason. It’s quite difficult to draw a line between a mental disorder and a personality trait, so only an expert can diagnose a person with chronic depression. But you should consider the possibility of chronic depressive disorder if you’ve noticed the following signs and symptoms:
- There are such risk factors as a stressful job, difficult situation in the family, lack of sleep and fatigue.
- The person’s behavior has changed: they’re upset, pessimistic, prone to tears, have lost all interest in life.
- Their physical condition has become worse: the person in question experiences headaches, sleeping and eating disorders, lack of productivity at work, pain in the stomach or heart which is not accompanied by any internal organs disease.
The symptoms of chronic depression are not pronounced. Depending on the circumstances and the state of health of the affected person, their condition is changing for the better or worse.
The most common symptoms of chronic depression are:
- Indifference. The affected person loses interest and joy in life, rarely experiences positive emotions (only when something truly remarkable happens). The depressed usually say that they are tired of everything, often get irritated, find no joy in simple things like nice weather, tasty food, good rest, etc.
- Apathy. The person not only feels no joy in life but also has no desire to do anything beyond the chores they absolutely have to do. The depressed people refuse entertainment, abandon their friends, and don’t travel. Eventually, there is no desire to do any “extra” activities: the person has no motivation to learn new things, keep the house or even maintain personal hygiene. Such patients spend most of their time at home alone and try to avoid communication.
- Negativism. The person’s attitude to themselves and to life in general is changing. They experience such feelings as guilt, helplessness, uselessness, despair, and so on. They feel no hope about the future, their talents and achievements become worthless to them. The depressed think that they can’t change anything and overcome the obstacles arising. Such a mental state is very dangerous for the patient because their self-esteem is low, and they are easily influenced by other people, especially if they see someone as an authoritative figure in their life – parents, relatives or a spouse. Sometimes one even commits suicide because they’ve decided they can’t solve their problems and there is nobody around who can help.
- Reduced physical and mental activity. The person suffering from chronic depression has difficulties concentrating on everyday tasks, becomes forgetful, fails to pay attention to what’s happening around. They can’t fulfill complicated intellectual tasks, react quickly when some situation requires; they become absent-minded and easily fatigued, their movements slow.
- Physical manifestations. The depressed person always has psychosomatic symptoms. These can include migraines, dizziness, muscle weakness, low libido, sleeping and eating disorders, muscle and joint pains, sudden pains affecting internal organs (stomach, heart, etc.), menstrual irregularity in women. Chronic depression can be accompanied by other health disorders: dystonia, arterial hypertension, anemia, gastritis, osteochondrosis, and so on (but there can’t be any serious pathologies in the functioning of the internal organs – if that’s the case, the depression becomes a consequence of a somatic disease that should be treated).
- Psychopathic syndromes. In rare cases, chronic depression leads to such mental disorders as phobias, anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and, in severe cases, hallucinations and delirium.
Diagnosing chronic depression
It’s quite difficult to diagnose chronic depression, and such patients often choose not to turn to an expert for help. Most of the depressed people don’t even suspect there is a need to see a therapist.
You should remember that chronic depression is a serious mental condition which can be diagnosed and treated only by a qualified health professional.
Chronic depression: treatment
A mild depression can be treated with counseling, vitamins, and antidepressants. In rare cases (after a suicide attempt or delirium and hallucinations), a patient needs hospitalization and neuroleptics.
The treatment of chronic depression usually includes:
- Changes in the way of living;
- Drug therapy;
- Additional ways of treatment.
The prevention and treatment of any form of depression should start with changing the patient’s lifestyle. It’ll make it possible to restore their nervous system and state of health in general, facilitate and speed up the treatment, and help to avoid a major depressive episode in the future. The patient should avoid stressful situations, normalize their work-life balance – work no more than 8 hours a day, and spend the rest of the time sleeping and relaxing.
If the depressed person’s job involves a high level of stress and irregular working hours, it’s strongly recommended to change it before the patient experiences a relapse.
Besides maintaining a healthy work-life balance, the depressed patient should give up bad habits, spend more time out to get fresh air (at least an hour per day), start doing exercises, and avoid overtime work. These recommendations should be observed as strictly as drug intake and attending therapy sessions.
Most of those who suffer from chronic depression think that antidepressants and therapy will magically cure them, and there is no need to put effort and try to change. But chronic depression is a mental disorder which requires considerable changes in one’s way of living, thinking, and behavior.
A therapist will definitely prescribe antidepressants (Zoloft, Prozac or other). The course of treatment usually lasts for 6 months or more. During it, the dosage of medications will be gradually reduced.
Besides antidepressants, the doctor sometimes prescribes sedatives in order to treat sleeping disorders.
In order to treat chronic depression, the patient attends individual therapy sessions or group meetings. Counseling helps the depressed to better understand themselves and their inner turmoil which has caused depression in the first place.
There are also a few additional ways of treatment that help to get rid of chronic depression: music therapy, art-therapy, yoga, and other methods of relaxation and expressing their emotions.
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By Maria Shevtsova
Born in Belarus, 1985, a pedagogue and family psychologist. Taking action in support groups organization and social adaptation of the people with mental disorders. Since 2015 is a chief editor of the undepress.net project, selecting the best and up-to-date material for those, who want to get their life back or help someone dear, who got into mental trap.
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