Chronic Depression

One in five Australians will experience an episode of depression during their lifetime. The majority will seek treatment or experience what is known as a spontaneous remission¹ and then get on with the rest of their lives. But for some, depression becomes a chronic condition, or what researchers at the Black Dog Institute call Melancholic depression¹. This type of depression, also known as Dysthymia² is much harder to treat and causes major disruption in the lives of sufferers.

The Black Dog Institute in Sydney puts the figure at less than 5%. But as a sufferer of this type of depression, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the actual number of sufferers is higher than that. I say this because melancholic (chronic) depression is a condition which is little understood by GP’s, allied health professionals and even some psychiatrists.

For most health professionals, there is only one type of depression – the temporary kind – the type that is triggered by a particularly stressful life event. Initially, this is how the chronic form of depression presents itself, usually at a very young age.

I was 13 when I experienced my first episode of depression and the most recent episode ended just a few days ago. It is at this point when people with bipolar disorder will experience a ‘manic’ episode. But I don’t have bipolar disorder. For me and for other sufferers of chronic depression, there are only two speeds – depressed and normal functioning. I am able to function and be a very productive member of society in between episodes of depression. Sometimes there’s a trigger for depression, sometimes not – which is very frustrating.

For readers of Australian Women Online, it’s easy to know when I’m experiencing an episode of depression – I’m not writing and I’m neglecting my responsibilities to the website. Thank God for Tania McCartney and the other members of the AWO team, or this site would become a barren wasteland for up to seven months out of the year! When I’m writing almost every day like I am now, you know everything’s fine and dandy on this side of the web page.

I’ve had more episodes of depression than I can count. But I can recall that 3 of these episodes where much more severe than the others and lasted for more than a year. However, this isn’t the end of the story because I have learned there are things I can do to minimise the impact of chronic depression in my life. Unfortunately for the young, it takes many years to establish a depression management plan that actually works for you. But don’t give up, you can still lead a productive life, even a relatively happy one, when you suffer from chronic depression.

Perhaps someday all doctors and allied health professionals will have a better understanding of this condition – heck, I’d settle for the majority acknowledging that it does exist at this point! Then it will no longer be necessary for sufferers of chronic depression like myself, to move from one doctor to the next and spend hundreds of hours in counselling and psychotherapy just to be told there’s nothing more that can be done, or as one counsellor told me after only a few sessions, “It’s too entrenched. I can’t work with you.” You can imagine how that may me feel: I failed counselling.

I’ve read just about every book on depression and I can’t relate to any of them. For me depression is not just a distant memory, it’s also an acknowledged part of my future. I’d dearly love to put it all behind me, but after 30 years, I realise that it’s just something I have to learn live with. Just like a sufferer of diabetes or asthma, I had to learn how to manage my chronic condition. But unlike a sufferer of diabetes or asthma, I had to do it mostly without the help of the health professionals – I feel very let down by the health system in this country and I hope that one day this neglect of sufferers of chronic depression, won’t cost this sufferer her life.

Information about depression can be found at these websites:

Photo: © karuka – Fotolia.com

References
1. Depression explained: types Black Dog Institute
2. Dysthymia PubMed Health

Comments

  1. Louise says

    Hi Deborah, I totally relate to this. Depression started when I was very young, about 8 years. I have severe clinical depression, the type that is due to chemical imbalance – pure physical condition just like asthma, diabetes, etc. No amount of councelling will touch my depression. Even on medication I am still severely depressed.

    I’ve spent my entire life fighting it and trying to live my life. I’d worked my butt off and become very successful, owned a beautiful house, business et al. Getting involved with a sociopath destroyed it all and I lost everything.

    In June 2010 I overdosed and was found not breathing. My heart stopped three times and I was in a coma for seven days in intensive care.

    When I came to the medical staff told me that I’d come incredibly close to dying but I couldn’t understand why that mattered, what the big deal was.

    I’ve spent the past 1.5 years trying to get my life back together, but it’s been incredibly hard. There are days I am just so depressed I go back to bed and weekends I don’t bother getting up.

    Working is incredibly hard, I can’t focus, I don’t enjoy work any longer. When I was younger I was so ambitious and driven and had my life ahead of me. But now in my forties I feel that my life is over.

    God what an incredibly depressing post! what has helped me is reading. I have found much help in books about goal setting and succeeding. Just reading them makes me feel enormously better and positive about the future.

    I’ve realised recently that if I am miserable then I have to do something about it. It won’t change otherwise. So I fervently read Brian Tracey’s Goal setting book, Louise Hay and Jack Canfield. These give me a huge hope for a better future. And by taking full responsibility for my life then I know I can make it better.

    • says

      Louise

      Firstly, let me say how grateful I am to you for sharing your story here. You have a lot of courage. I’m so glad you have found solace in reading. My favourite self help book is still “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck, it’s well worth reading and it’s been around since 1979 so it’s available in most libraries and book stores.

      Something which I didn’t mention here but I will certainly write about it next time I approach this topic, is the wonderful support and encouragement I received from an organisation called Aftercare who were pivotal in my recovery from my most recent severe episode of depression, when I was in my mid to late thirties. Check them out, maybe they can help you too.

      Thanks again and I wish you well in your recovery ~Hugs

  2. Gillian Bouras says

    Deborah and Louise

    I think you are both very brave, and are to be commended for sharing your stories.
    Sad to say, there is still such a stigma attached to this very real form of suffering,
    mainly because people who have never been depressed consider that the only thing
    people in this sort of pain need to do is to ‘pull themselves together.’ Would it were as
    simple as that.

    I hope more people thank you for spreading the word, and for ‘telling it like it is.’
    It takes a tremendous amount of courage just to keep on going: I congratulate you both.

    Gillian

      • Gillian Bouras says

        Thank you, Deborah.
        Things are not easy in Greece, as you would know, but it is easier living
        in the provinces than in the big cities. But it’s a very fragile situation.

        With regard to life and work, I don’t know where the time goes. I’m sure you know the feeling!

  3. Elan says

    Dear Deborah,
    Your story is my story but there may be hope for me and others too. I have been feeling nauseous for ages and among the Tests to find out what is wrong I had a blood test which showed up Allergies to wheat,oats,milk,yeast and meta bi-sulphates, as at least one of these is present in most of our Food it will be a challenge to find food to eat. For me, the exciting thing is that often the food allergies are what cause depression. I am so hoping for an improvement in my mood after all the allergies have left my body. I think you and your Readers may find this interesting. Elan

    • says

      Elan
      Depression can be quite complicated and there are usually a number of factors involved. Part of any mental health management plan has to be a good diet and that is quite difficult with all the processed crap in our supermarkets these days.

  4. Caroline Curtis says

    Deborah, I have just re-read your article. Having just learnt how to post a comment, I am going to be brave and write one here. It is inspiring for fellow depression sufferers like myself to see how you manage life so well despite suffering bouts of chronic depression, this wonderful website is testament to how much can be achieved during the “good” times. Your acceptance of depression as an acknowledged part of your future is one of the best pieces of advice I have found on the subject: accepting and not fighting it, not raging against the premature and unjustifiable “fading of the light” has made life less painful for me since reading this article the first time – learning to live with it. You have so many supporters, so much to live for – depression is so very unfair in its choice of sufferers.

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