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What Is Chronic Depression?

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: January 30, 2023

Chronic depression [1] can sound like a frightening disorder, but it’s important to understand what chronic depression is and isn’t, especially if you know or suspect that your teen might be dealing with the disorder.

Unfortunately, the media, especially media made about or for teenagers, can get a lot of things wrong when it comes to depression, which can make depression harder to recognize when someone you love is actually dealing with the disorder.

In some cases, bad media portrayals can even influence how people dealing with depression show symptoms and behave.
With all that in mind, it’s important to get real information about what depression is, what it isn’t, and how to spot the potential signs of depression in teens.

chronic depression

What Is Chronic Depression?

Having a mental health disorder doesn’t mean that someone is crazy, or that they won’t be able to have a normal, happy, healthy, or productive life.

Teens who deal with mental health disorders can often feel like they are alone, that other people don’t understand their experiences, or even that they are doomed because of the way they are feeling. It’s important if you suspect that your teen might be dealing with chronic depression to honor their emotions and make sure they know that what they are feeling doesn’t have to mean that their future is any less bright or exciting than their peers.

Chronic depression is a mental health disorder that can result from a natural imbalance in the neurotransmitters in the brain, negative events in life, chronic stress, or a million other things.  Remember, depression is no one’s fault and can be treated.

The main difference between chronic depression and other forms of depression is that chronic depression is usually longer lasting, and may not ever fade completely, or may stick around for years at a time before fading.

The Difference Between Chronic Depression And Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Chronic depression and persistent depressive disorder [2] are largely the same diagnoses, though some doctors and mental health professionals may use them separately in part to mark different levels of severity.

Generally, chronic depression is used for more mild versions of depression that aren’t as severe as major depressive disorder, and can often persist for two years or longer. Persistent depressive disorder may describe the same disorder or may be used to describe a more severe version of chronic depression, while still being different from major depressive disorder.

The Difference Between Chronic Depression And Major Depression

There are two important differences between chronic depression and major depressive disorder. The first is severity. Major depressive disorder is almost always more severe than chronic depression, but also shorter lived.

A depression needs to last at least 2 weeks before it qualifies as a disorder, and chronic depressive disorders are usually defined as a persistent depression that lasts more than 6 months.

That said, some people do have both chronic depression and periods of major depression, and may need different kinds of treatment for their depression depending on which type of depression they are dealing with most actively.

In teenagers, it can be much easier to miss chronic depression compared with major depression, especially since chronic depression can sometimes just look like pessimism or disinterest from the outside.

Common Signs And Symptoms Of Chronic Depression

There are a lot of potential signs and symptoms of chronic depression, and it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between someone dealing with chronic depression and someone dealing with chronic stress, or who is just consistently tired.

That said, regardless of the source of these symptoms, they should be taken seriously and addressed as soon as possible. Chronic stress and lack of sleep can contribute to the development of mental health disorders, especially in combination with other risk factors.

In teens, some of these signs and symptoms may be difficult to differentiate from normal teenage moodiness, hormonal changes, and the fatigue brought on by frequent and intense growth spurts.

If you suspect that your teen might be dealing with the symptoms of depression, it’s important to talk to them about it and to get them evaluated by the professionals. It could be that your teen is dealing with the normal stresses of being a teenager, or they could be dealing with something more serious.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of chronic depression that you might notice in teens or anyone with the disorder:

  • Constantly feeling sad or down
  • Feeling empty
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling guilty, especially when you don’t know why
  • Internal criticism, especially unfair self-critique
  • Low self-esteem
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Sleep problems
  • Struggling to complete tasks
  • Struggling to complete tasks on time or to a certain standard
  • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Insomnia
  • Oversleeping
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating

Some of these symptoms may be obvious from the outside, while others can be difficult or impossible to spot unless you’re the one experiencing them.

Remember that a lot of teens will try to hide the way they are feeling out of fear of being ostracized or stigmatized if they do have a mental health disorder. It can feel difficult or impossible to seek help, and some teens might even think that they are the only ones who feel this way without realizing that what they are feeling are possible symptoms of a disorder.

What Does Chronic Depression Look Like From The Outside

From the outside, it can sometimes be hard to tell chronic depression from teenage attitude, general pessimism, or even simple low energy levels. However, it can be important to check in with teens showing these symptoms to see how they are feeling and make sure they know that you’re a safe person to talk to.

From the outside, you might notice that people with chronic depression seem less interested in things. They might feel a little distant, and it might feel surprising to see them happy or excited about things. Chronic depression can make people move slower and may mean that they oversleep, are late to classes or social events, or stay inside more often than their peers.

In your teen, it may look a lot like normal moodiness, but the moodiness might not pass and may seem to get worse at times.
Teens with chronic depression often deal with insomnia, or sleeping too much, especially taking extra naps or seeming like they need to sleep when other people are awake and then struggling to sleep at night.

Teens with chronic depression might also self-harm, or talk about self-harm, and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Normally self-harm and suicidal ideation [3] are more hallmarks of major depression, but they can also appear in chronic depression, especially when that chronic depression is long-lasting.

Chronic Depression And Teens

Chronic Depression And Teens

Chronic depression can be particularly difficult for teens to deal with, especially if their depression started at a younger age because it can be hard for them to imagine feeling better, or to differentiate what parts of what they are thinking and feeling are really related to the depression.

Teens who have chronic depression may also hide their feelings. There aren’t any specific signs that are guaranteed to point to depression in teens. Teens can have depression and have great grades, or they could struggle to keep up in school because of their depression. Depressed teens might have fewer friends or be less likely to go to social events. Or they might be social butterflies with busy schedules.

The bottom line is that if you are worried that a teen in your life is dealing with depression, the best way to tell might be to talk to them, or to take them to a doctor and see if they meet the clinical criteria. There are a lot of signs that could be completely normal or a lot of signs that might seem normal because depression is relatively common, but that are really more concerning than most people realize.

How Is Chronic Depression Treated

There are a lot of different ways to approach depression treatment. Some people do well with talk therapy or medication by themselves.

Other people really need both to get effective treatment, and other people need more active interventions or to build a list of coping skills that help them deal with their feelings and work through the depression without suffering as many negative consequences from the disorder.

Remember, especially with teens, what they need can change, and it can take a long time to find the right combination of treatments to address the problem. It’s important to have patience with the process and to communicate with your teen and be understanding of the fact that there isn’t a therapist or a pill that will make everything better right away.

Ready To Get Your Teen Help With Chronic Depression?

If you think that your teen might need help with chronic depression, or have a teen that is struggling to manage mental health concerns or has been resistant to other treatments in the past, BasePoint Academy can help.

We’re here to help teens dealing with depression and mental health problems, whether they are already diagnosed or if they’re still in the process of figuring out the right diagnosis.

If you and your teen are ready for more help, and a supportive and intensive therapeutic environment to help find the right treatments and support for your teen, contact BasePoint Academy. We’re here for you.

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[1] Cronkleton, E. Medical News Today. (2022, July 29). What to know about chronic depression. Retrieved from on 2o22, December 27

[2]Persistent depressive disorder. Mayo Clinic. Published December 2, 2022. Accessed December 27, 2022.

[3] A; HBS, Saadabadi, Duong TVH, Lee S. (2023 January). National Library of Medicine. Suicidal ideation. Retrieved from on 2022, December 27