FAQ: The Facts About Chronic Depression

Dr. Erin Olivo answers common questions about the symptoms and treatment of chronic depression.

Posted on | By Erin L. Olivo, PhD

What is chronic depression?

Chronic depression is a mental disorder sometimes referred to as dysthymia, or by its official psychiatric diagnostic label, persistent depressive disorder. This form of depression is characterized by a depressed mood that’s present most days for at least two years. Chronic depression is often described as a mild depression, but research evidence suggests this often isn’t the case. Chronic depression can be debilitating and severe and may coincide with episodes of major depression (a condition called double depression).

Though many people with chronic depression don’t seek treatment, it can be effectively treated with medication and psychotherapy.

Who is at risk?

The exact cause of chronic depression is not known but research suggests that it is probably caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Chronic depression is more common among women than among men. This may in part be explained by hormonal and biological differences as well as by psychosocial and life cycle stressors that more often affect women, such as caring for children or aging parents, abuse and relationship difficulties. Negative or stressful life events such as trauma or loss of a loved one can trigger a depressive episode, but often there is no obvious trigger. It is not known why some depression becomes chronic and others do not.

Article written by Erin L. Olivo, PhD
Erin L. Olivo, PhD is an Asst. Professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons