Dealing with depression is never easy, but for sufferers of dysthymia, also known as long-term depression, the emotional pain can seem never ending. According to the American Psychiatric Association, dysthymia is depression that lasts most of the time for at least two years. It also includes at least two of the following symptoms: appetite changes, inability to fall or stay asleep, excessive sleepiness, low energy, poor self-esteem, inability to decide or concentrate, and feelings of hopelessness.

While long term depression is not the same as major depression, whose symptoms tend to be more severe, it actually can be more disabling because it is so constant. While major depression normally entails at least five of the above symptoms, it can last as little as two weeks. Experts estimate that as many as 6 percent of people in this country have ever suffered from long-term depression, with 3 percent having experienced it in the past year. As with major depression, it tends to occur more often in women than men, but it arises earlier in life than major depression does, often before the age of 20. And more than half of all people with long-term depression eventually experience an episode of major depression.

How can you handle depression that's present almost around the clock? First, it's important to make sure you're being adequately treated. Many people with dysthymia don't realize they have it because their symptoms are such a part of their lives. Irritability and exhaustion are so ever-present that they seem normal. (They aren't!) And many doctors, particularly if they're not mental-health professionals, aren't adept at diagnosing it either. So if you feel constantly down, hopeless or exhausted, it's important to speak up. Once long-term depression has been clinically diagnosed, it's treated in much the same way that other kinds of depression are-with counseling and prescription medication, particularly SSRIs.

Source: Harvard Health Publications, .