Chronic depression isn’t the same as major depression — it’s a mood disorder with symptoms that can linger for at least 2 years.

Although it’s considered less severe than major depression disorder (MDD), chronic depression can still be a serious mental health condition.

Also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD) or dysthymia, chronic depression is characterized by a low mood for most of the day.

However, there are several treatment options for chronic depression can be treated and managed effectively.

Chronic depression is characterized by a depressed mood that occurs for most of the day. Someone with chronic depression might feel this way for more days than not, possibly for years on end.

Chronic depression affects about 3% of U.S. adults every year, although this number may be higher as it might be underdiagnosed.

Many of the symptoms of chronic depression are similar to those of major depression. The difference is that, with chronic depression, the symptoms occur for a longer period of time.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) outlines the criteria for diagnosing chronic depression.

The symptoms of chronic depression can include:

  • a depressed mood for most of the day, almost every day
  • feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • low self-esteem
  • difficulty concentrating
  • low energy levels
  • difficulty sleeping
  • having a poor appetite or overeating

You might find that the symptoms are more intense at times and milder at other times.

Chronic depression can make it difficult for some people to function. You might have difficulty socializing and maintaining relationships, and it can also affect your career or school life.

For an adult to be diagnosed with chronic depression, your symptoms need to persist for at least 2 years, while for children and teens, the symptoms must persist for 1 year.

Someone with chronic depression might also experience an episode of major depression. This is called double depression. With double depression, you might also have suicidal thoughts.

If you’re considering self-harm or suicide, you’re not alone

You can access free support right away with these resources:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call the Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
  • Veterans Crisis Line. Call 800-273-8255, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
  • Deaf Crisis Line. Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
  • Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.

The cause of chronic depression isn’t clear just yet, and more research is needed. Experts believe a number of factors can contribute to the development of chronic depression, including:

Chronic depression often goes untreated for many. Because the symptoms can be mild but persistent, a person with chronic depression may think it’s simply a part of their personality and not something that can be managed.

But there are many treatments for chronic depression that might help you feel better.

Talk therapy

Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, is considered a first-line treatment for chronic depression and other mental health conditions.

Many forms of talk therapy can be helpful, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT aims to help you recognize cognitive distortions.
  • Cognitive behavioral analysis system of psychotherapy (CBASP). CBASP is a newer kind of therapy specifically developed for chronic depression.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT). IPT focuses on social issues and relationships.
  • Psychodynamic therapy. This type of therapy looks into your past to find the root causes of your symptoms.

Medication

Your doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe medication to help ease your symptoms.

Chronic depression is often treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as:

If you’re prescribed medication, it’s important to take it as directed. It can be dangerous to stop taking medication without your doctor’s supervision.

Supplements

If you’re experiencing chronic depression, you might benefit from using supplements. It can be best to consult with your doctor before using a new supplement.

Supplements that may help symptoms of chronic depression include:

  • Vitamin D. Per a 2018 journal article, vitamin D deficiencies are associated with depression.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. A review published in 2015 suggests omega-3 fatty acid supplements might help reduce depressive symptoms; however, more research is still needed
  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC). A literature review from 2016 suggests that NAC might help improve symptoms.

If you’re intrigued about what supplements can do for your depression, talking with your doctor before using a new supplement can help you gather more information to help determine if their right for you.

Self-help strategies

Certain self-help strategies might help you feel better.

Firstly, getting support is a great start. You might find it helpful to reach out to supportive loved ones. Support groups can also be helpful — check out the Mental Health America support group database or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance to find a support group.

Exercising might reduce the physical effects of depression, according to 2019 research. As little as 10 minutes a day can be a good start. Consider trying fun, pleasurable forms of exercise to improve your mood.

Depressive symptoms can include sleeping too much or too little. This can contribute to a low mood and low energy levels. You might benefit from setting a sleep schedule and doing relaxing exercises before bed to slow your brain down.

You could also benefit from engaging in enjoyable activities that help you process and express your emotions, such as journaling or other creative hobbies.

Other treatments

If your depression doesn’t respond to other treatments, your doctor might recommend another treatment.

This could include:

  • Light therapy uses a light therapy box, which could help regulate your sleep cycle and serotonin levels.
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a type of brain stimulation therapy that has shown potential in helping people with treatment-resistant depression.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an effective form of brain stimulation therapy that’s typically prescribed for people with treatment-resistant depression.

Although there’s no cure for chronic depression, symptoms can be managed effectively with the right treatment.

Treatment plans often consist of a combination of:

  • therapy
  • medication
  • self-care and lifestyle changes

Working with your doctor and therapist to design the best treatment plan for you can help you feel better.

If you are ready to seek help but don’t know where to start, consider checking out Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health care.