What is cyclical depression?

woman in solutude and depression image by Allen Penton from Fotolia.com

Cyclical depression is often referred to as "recurrent depression," a type of depression that comes and goes throughout a person's lifetime. Depression itself entails feelings of listlessness, hopelessness and despair which interferes with the patient's ability to enjoy his life. If left untreated, it can cause untold damage. Cyclical depression requires close monitoring because it comes and goes.


Psyche Central's Wiki describes major depression as "a severely depressed mood which persists for at least two weeks." Cyclical or recurrent depression means that it may come and go multiple times over the lifespan of the overall episode. Psyche Central also differentiates such depression from other types of mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.


Science Daily reports that some 17 per cent of all individuals within the United States will suffer from major depression at some point during their lives. Of that number, over 50 per cent will experience cyclical depression, and 35 per cent will experience it three or more times. Thus, many psychologists treat depression with an eye on cyclical episodes, and work to prevent the depressed feelings from recurring.

Premenstrual Syndrome

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) cites a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as a cause of cyclical depression in some patients. In the days before menstruation begins, the patient undergoes hormonal changes, which can result in feelings of hopelessness and despair. Such feelings recur along with the menstrual cycle and the risk of depression increases as women undergo menopause. Research continues into the links between depression and the cyclical pattern of hormones in the female body.

Connected Illnesses

NIMH also draws links between cyclical depression and other mental conditions. Phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders and panic disorder can severely affect a patient's ability to function, and thus create recurrent feelings of depression. Post-traumatic stress also creates cyclical depression; NIMH maintains that some 40 per cent of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients grapple with depression at recurring intervals. Severe physical illnesses, such as cancer and strokes, may entail cyclical depressive episodes as well.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that accompanies the onset of winter, according to the Mayo Clinic. Reduced sunlight may lower the levels of serotonin in the brain, and the overall seasonal change affects melatonin levels, which help regulate the sleep cycle. As the days get shorter, the patient experiences classic symptoms of depression, including listlessness, irritability, insomnia and emotional despair. It tends to recur every year, making it a form of cyclical depression.

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