Treating Chronic Depression: Which Form Of Therapy Wanes Over Time?

By Kelly Burch 08/08/19

A new study compared two types of therapy for early-onset chronic depression to see which stood the test of time.

person getting treatment for chronic depression

A new study highlights the complexities of treating persistent depression, by showing that the benefits of some types of therapy lessen with time. 

The study, published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, compared two types of therapy for early-onset chronic depression, which is characterized by depressive episodes that last two years or longer. Researchers compared the benefits of supportive psychotherapy (SP) with the benefits of the cognitive behavioral analysis system of psychotherapy (CBASP), a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that was specifically developed to treat chronic depression. 

The researchers found that in the first year after a diagnosis and the beginning of treatment, CBASP was more effective than SP at relieving symptoms of depression. However, by two years after the diagnosis, patients treated with SP were doing better than those treated with CBASP. 

“CBASP lost its superiority over SP at some point between the first and the second year,” study authors wrote. “This suggests the necessity of maintenance treatment for early-onset chronically depressed patients remitted with CBASP during the acute therapy phase, as well as the sequential integration of other treatment strategies, including medication for those who did not reach remission.”

Treating Chronic Depression

While all depression is difficult to treat, chronic depression can be especially hard. Many people who have chronic depression find that their condition is resistant to treatment. Because of that, it is especially important to know if a therapy like CBASP is not as effective as doctors initially believed it was. 

Research indicate that 3-6% of people will deal with chronic depression. That includes Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton, who spoke about his experience with the condition last year. 

“My life is, by every objective measurement, very very good,” Wheaton said at a conference for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) last year. “And in spite of all of that, I struggle every day with my self-esteem, my self-worth, and my value not only as an actor and writer, but as a human being. That’s because I live with depression and anxiety, the tag team champions of the World Wrestling with Mental Illness Federation.”

He said that the time he kept quiet about his chronic condition made things worse.  

“I suffered because though we in America have done a lot to help mental illness, we have not done nearly enough to make it okay for our fellow travelers on the wonky brain express to reach out and accept that help,” Wheaton said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.