The main differences between acute and chronic depression encompass much more than duration. Acute depression lasts only a few weeks, while chronic depression lasts the remainder of your life. Studies reveal that, in comparison to acute major depression, chronic major depression leads to more frequent functional impairment, greater likelihood of suicide, and often occurs in conjunction with other mental disorders. Major depression can be caused by biological, genetic, neurological, environmental, or social factors. Although the relationship between depression and biological and genetic factors is still unclear, biological factors such as genetics (mother/father) and brain chemistry (neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine) have been proven to play a significant role in causing major depression. In addition, environmental factors like early developmental trauma and low parental emotional support have also been demonstrated to play a role in causing major depression.
As previously stated, one of the major difference between chronic depression and acute sadness is that whereas most people experience a temporary period of sadness during normal life transitions, those suffering from chronic depression are most likely suffering from a more long-term form of sadness (i.e., enduring sadness). During periods of temporary sadness, people’s moods tend to rebound to a more balanced state. For those who suffer from chronic depression, however, this rebound process is not possible, thus perpetuating their state of chronic depression. As a result of this state of constant and recurring sadness, it is very likely for individuals to lose interest in everyday activities, lose interest in friends and family, develop problems with self-esteem, and may engage in suicidal thoughts.
Similarly, the two most common subtypes of depression include dysthymia and depression. Dysthymia is characterized by relatively short periods of sadness, typically lasting no longer than 6 months, and is divided into two subtypes: dysthymic disorder (DY) and manic depressive disorder (BD). Meanwhile, depression is characterized by prolonged periods of sadness that may continue for long periods of time, with symptoms arising primarily from stress and social environments. However, there are some cases where both dysthymia and depression exist in the same individual; however, treatment for each subtype will differ based on the clinical manifestation of the condition.
When it comes to the issue of how do we identify and treat individuals who suffer from either dysthymia or depression, experts advise that the first step in the process is the recognition that these patients have difficulties managing different situational cues that might trigger feelings of sadness. This process of situational awareness is known as rumination and has been demonstrated to be ineffective in addressing emotional problems like chronic depression. However, researchers have recently discovered that the process of rumination can actually help individuals overcome chronic depression by allowing them to reframe their emotional responses to everyday situations, which in turn triggers a sense of relief. Indeed, experts believe that this relief from the stressors surrounding the situation actually allows the person to gain some control over the event, ultimately boosting their moods and helping them recover from their condition.
According to the researchers, when an individual begins to ruminate on events that can trigger feelings of hopelessness and sadness, he or she may begin to perceive events as threatening or tragic in his or her mind, leading to the emergence of chronic depression. This perspective can be particularly effective in combating chronic depression and has been shown to significantly alleviate the symptoms of chronic depression. In addition, it allows individuals to gain some emotional distance from the chronic situation, which can itself help them reduce symptoms of depression.
The process of rumination also allows those suffering from dysthymia to escape from the anxiety and stressors of everyday life. However, the ongoing process of rumination is likely to make individuals with this disorder feel even worse, leading them to increase the likelihood of developing chronic depression in the future. Although this disorder cannot be diagnosed until a minimum of six months have passed and any changes in the symptoms of depression have disappeared, it is important that timely medical intervention is sought after in order to prevent the development of a more serious chronic depression or dysthymia. By seeking treatment early on, people with this disorder can significantly improve their chances of improving their health and quality of life.