What is long-term depression? What happens if depression symptoms last for years?
For people suffering from long-term depression – and those who care about them – these are extremely important questions. According to the Mayo Clinic, persistent depressive disorder is a continuous, long-term form of depression. Individuals may feel sad, lose interest in daily activities, have trouble getting things done, have low self-esteem, or feel hopeless or like a failure.
If left untreated, depression can lead to significant challenges in all areas of life, including personal relationships, work, school, and daily activities. This is not surprising, as common depression symptoms include lack of energy, inability to focus, difficulty making decisions, avoidance of social activities, lack of patience, and problems getting things done well and on time. Over months and years, these symptoms can become debilitating.
Depression can also negatively impact physical health. In addition to problems caused by symptoms like poor appetite, overeating, and sleep issues, depression is also a risk factor for diseases and disorders, such as obesity, diabetes, chronic respiratory disorders, and arthritis. Research has also found that people with long-term depression are at a higher risk for cardiovascular deterioration and heart attack. If a heart attack or other heart problem happens, it is more difficult to recover for individuals with major depression.
Individuals suffering from long-term depression are also at risk of trying to self-medicate with illegal drugs and alcohol, leading to dependency and causing a new set of physical and mental health issues.
In addition, depression is a major cause of suicide, which is a leading cause of death in the U.S.
Fortunately, there are options to treat long-term depression. Two first-line options usually involve therapy and medication.
What is Talk Therapy for Depression?
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves speaking with a mental health professional to better understand one’s experiences and increase their well-being. Forms of psychotherapy commonly used to treat depression include psychodynamics, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and interpersonal therapy (IPT).
Medication can also be useful in treating long-term depression. Several classes of medication are available, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). Though psychopharmacology is a generally effective depression treatment, it can cause side effects such as weight gain or sexual dysfunction, and many patients are found to be treatment resistant.
There also are several medical technologies available to treat depression, such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS™).
ECT induces a brief set of seizures that stimulate the brain’s neural activity. Originally used to treat schizophrenia, ECT was eventually found to help alleviate severe depression, and today is primarily used to treat this condition. Though highly effective, ECT is not for everyone. It requires full sedation under anesthesia, which complicates the recovery process. Its side effects can be severe and include short-term memory loss.
Traditional TMS has been available to the public since 2008. TMS is a noninvasive treatment for depression. The treatment sends out electromagnetic pulses from a figure-8-shaped handheld device, used to stimulate the neural activity of brain structures found to be involved in depression. While TMS has been clinically shown to be a safe and effective treatment option, this traditional form of TMS has certain limitations: The figure-8 coil’s relatively narrow scope means only a focal brain structure can be regulated at any given moment, causing targeting issues to arise during treatment.
Deep TMS is an advancement of traditional TMS treatment and addresses many of the concerns raised with its predecessor. Deep TMS is also a noninvasive treatment that utilizes a magnetic field to stimulate the neural activity of brain structures associated with depression, in addition to other forms of mental illness. Deep TMS does not require anesthesia or recovery and can be incorporated into an individual’s daily routine.
The high levels of safety and effectiveness shown in clinical trials granted Deep TMS an FDA clearance status in 2013 for treating depression. Deep TMS is also the only noninvasive medical device to be given an FDA clearance based on peer-reviewed clinical data for treating OCD and Smoking Addiction. It is CE-marked in Europe to treat depression, OCD, and several other mental health conditions.
If you are suffering from long-term depression, talk to a healthcare provider about the best treatment options for you.