It is estimated that in the United States approximately 17 – 18 million Americans suffer from depression every year. Of those people, only 5 to 6 million people actually seek treatment. This is unfortunate, because depression is a treatable medical condition. About 80% of those that have sought treatment have reported that their lives were significantly improved by their treatments.
While there are several different types of depression that have been defined, chronic depression is among the most frequent reported. According to the National Inst. of Mental Health, approximately 1.5% of Americans suffer from chronic depression at some point in their lives. Chronic depression differs from major depression primarily by the fact that the severity of the emotions associated with them are less severe. Though chronic depression is a milder form, the symptoms can last for a very long time, sometimes years. Though it is less disabling than major depression, it still prevents people from functioning at their best. People who suffer from chronic depression can also go through short periods of major depression.
Experts are divided on what exactly causes chronic depression. Many believe that genetics do play a role; however there is dispute as to how great that role is. Many who are treated for chronic depression report no instances of having other relatives that have suffered from the condition as well. It is commonly accepted that changes in the chemistry of the brain are involved. It is also believed that chronic illnesses, life stressors, and some medications contribute too.
The symptoms of chronic depression are the same as that for major depression, but are far less severe. They include the following: the feeling of sadness that lasts most of the day, the lack of enthusiasm for things that were once enjoyable, major changes in appetite or weight, either excessively sleeping or insomnia, physical restlessness, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, and suicidal thoughts.
Diagnosis is made by examination of the symptoms by a medical doctor. The doctor will rule out other possible physical causes, such as hypothyroidism. He or she will examine your family history and will discuss with you any medications that could be causing your symptoms. Unfortunately there is no blood test that can conclusively indicate that the symptoms are caused by depression rather than another cause.
As with any chronic disease, early diagnosis and treatment is very beneficial for lessening the duration and intensity of the symptoms. Early treatment is also indicated to be effective for reducing the possibility of a relapse. Treatment usually consists of psychotherapy, medication, or a combination. Your primary care physician can usually treat the disease.
The cost of depression is very high, both in terms of human suffering and economic impact. Education is the key to improving the quality of life for those that suffer from any form of depression. Most people can be helped by treatment, and can go on to fully realize their potential having been freed from the debilitating effects of the disease.