Depressive personality disorder describes sadness or low mood lasting so long that it seems like part of your personality. The term is no longer used in diagnosis.

For some, depressive mood episodes come and go. For others, depression feels like a constant presence that’s been in their life as long as they can remember.

Depressive personality disorder is an outdated term for chronic depression, also called persistent depressive disorder (PDD) or dysthymia. This is where you have a depressed mood most days for at least 2 years.

Because chronic depression can last for so long, some people may wonder: Is chronic depression a personality type? Experts are still investigating this question. We look at what the research says.

Depressive personality disorder is an outdated diagnostic term. It described the experience of long-term depressive features, such as persistent sadness, pessimism, or low self-esteem.

The condition was considered a personality disorder due to the chronic (long-term) nature of the symptoms and how a depressed mood seemed a permanent part of the person’s personality.

In contrast, people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) experience depressive episodes that come and go over time.

Depressive personality disorder is no longer used in diagnosis because newer diagnoses, like PDD, more adequately define and organize these symptoms.

What does the DSM say?

Depressive personality disorder was included in several previous editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It was included in the DSM-2 and DSM-4, but not the DSM-3, due to controversy over whether the manual should list it as a separate condition.

Depressive personality disorder is not included in the current edition — the DSM-5 text revision (DSM-5-TR) — because it significantly overlaps with the diagnosis of PDD.

Researchers don’t fully understand the causes of chronic depression, and its classification is ever-evolving. Currently, PDD is the most commonly used diagnosis for chronic mild depression.

Depressive personality disorder was described in the DSM-4 as “a pervasive pattern of depressive cognitions [thinking styles] and behaviors beginning by early adulthood.”

For a diagnosis, the person would have met five or more of the following criteria on most days for at least 2 years:

  • typical mood dominated by sadness and joylessness
  • pessimistic outlook
  • prone to guilt or remorse
  • self-critical and self-derogatory
  • low self-esteem, or a self-concept that centers on beliefs of worthlessness
  • brooding or given to worry
  • critical and judgmental toward others

Depressive personality disorder was distinct from MDD in that it described long-term features that were considered part of the person’s personality.

In people with MDD, depression typically comes in episodes rather than persisting over a long period.

Various types of depression occur episodically, including:

The closest current diagnosis to depressive personality disorder would be PDD.

Like depressive personality disorder, PDD is a chronic condition of mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms, including low self-esteem, sleeping too much, fatigue, and difficulty making decisions — all for more than 2 years.

Researchers don’t fully understand what causes chronic depression.

Based on evidence from people with PDD, long-term depression or a “depressive personality” may be caused by various factors, including:

  • genetics
  • brain chemical (neurotransmitter) activity, including serotonin and dopamine
  • structural differences in the brain
  • previous mental health conditions
  • life stress or past trauma
  • social factors that affect a person’s health

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are the two most evidence-based forms of psychotherapy for treating people with depression:

  • CBT helps you identify dysfunctional thinking patterns and behaviors that are contributing to your depression
  • IPT helps you address any unhealthy interpersonal relationships and social skills

A newer type of treatment, cognitive-behavioral analysis system of psychotherapy (CBASP), is the only psychotherapy specifically developed for treating chronic depression. It’s an integrative treatment that combines various aspects of other therapies including the following approaches:

  • cognitive
  • behavioral
  • interpersonal (relationships and social factors)
  • psychodynamic (the psychological roots of mental health difficulties)

CBASP helps you develop a feeling of personal safety in your relationships, heal interpersonal trauma, and improve any interpersonal avoidance patterns.

Your doctor might also suggest medication if appropriate. Modern antidepressant medications fall into two main categories:

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Depressive personality disorder is a personality disorder with depressive features, such as chronic sadness, low self-esteem, or pessimism. The depressive features are chronic and seem more like personality traits rather than depression that occurs in episodes.

Depressive personality disorder is no longer listed as a diagnosis in the DSM-5, partly because of its overlap with persistent depressive disorder.

If you feel chronically depressed, it often helps to talk with a mental health professional. A therapist can help you work through unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that might contribute to your depression, and a psychiatrist can recommend medication if appropriate.

Looking for a therapist, but not sure where to start? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.