Recurrent Brief Depression

What’s Recurrent Brief Depression

Sadness is a common part of life, but the symptoms of depression go beyond typical bouts of sadness. Intermittent depressive episodes could be part of a psychological medical issue known as recurrent brief depression (RBD).

While much remains unknown about the condition, RBD is not unlike other forms of depression. It presents similarly to other types of depression and is treated similarly as well. One thing researchers know for sure is that depression is a complex mental illness.

Recurrent brief depression is a mental disorder that includes short bouts of depression followed by periods without depression. Essentially, this means that the depression comes and goes in bursts. The depression is usually mild or moderate, but it may include some instances of suicidal ideation. Understanding RBD is difficult because there is still so much left to learn about the human mind; however, the condition does have a lot in common with clinical depression.

Symptoms of Recurrent Brief Depression

Individuals with recurrent brief depression tend to experience the symptoms of depression for a time period of two to 13 days at a time. It is important that this depression is not paired with a period of hypomania, which is hyperactivity or elation, as this may be an indication of bipolar disorder instead.

Depression is characterized by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. It also includes fatigue and frequent tiredness. During depressive episodes, patients may cry frequently or feel sudden bursts of strong negative emotions.

Some patients do not report explicit sadness. Rather, they feel a sense of nothingness or lack of desire to do anything at all. It may feel more comfortable to spend the day in bed than to take care of responsibilities. There is often simply no motivation to carry out tasks or activities.

Depression symptoms include difficulty concentrating, irritability, and even guilt. Angry outbursts are not uncommon. It may feel that the weight of the world is crushing you, or that nobody is listening to you. This can cause outbursts.

Depression can often feel isolating, as it may begin to seem as if nobody can understand the pain you feel. It can feel as if the rest of the world has left you, or that you will never be able to relate to other people.

People with recurrent brief depression often struggle with insomnia. It may feel impossible to get to sleep at night, or you might find yourself waking up often. People with depression may also report having nightmares that keep them from even wanting to go back to sleep.

In some cases, recurrent brief depression includes extreme feelings about food. While some patients have no appetite, others will experience a strong increase in appetite. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see weight fluctuate during these brief periods of depression. When paired with listlessness and fatigue, it may feel impossible to exercise or find motivation to deal with the changes.

Generally, loss of interest in fun activities, family, and other simple pleasures of life are common with any sort of depression. You might feel as if you simply don’t care about anything anymore, even if you know in your mind that it is illogical to feel this way. You might even feel as if you will never feel happy again.

Suicidal ideation is a symptom of recurrent brief depression in rare cases. During severe periods of depression, some people consider or even plan suicide. While this is not as common with RBD as it is with other types of depression, it is still a serious concern for patients with the condition. Even if RBD begins with mild or moderate symptoms, they may worsen over time to include suicidal ideation.

When paired with an anxiety disorder, recurrent brief depression could worsen anxious feelings. During these bouts of depression, you may notice that you experience more panic attacks. If you tend toward social anxiety, you may even isolate yourself more, which can in turn lead to more intense depression.

Generally, the symptoms must appear once each month for at least a year to meet the requirements of RBD. A doctor will diagnose the condition based on your symptoms and how often you experience the effects of the condition.

Recurrent Brief Depression Causes

The explicit causes of this form of depression are not set in stone. As with any type of depression, doctors believe that a combination of environmental and biological factors are linked. Depression is a complex medical and psychological condition that researchers struggle to completely understand at this point. Many theories exist as to precisely what causes RBD and similar illnesses.

It is thought that this type of depression could share a link with bipolar disorder, meaning it may have a genetic component. Bipolar depression and recurrent brief depression are similar in that they both include episodes of depression. Bipolar depression differs in that it includes a period of hypomania.

The genetic linkage of depression is much more complex than other genetic factors, so simply having depression run in your family may not indicate that you also will experience depression. It comes down to a combination of nature and nurture.

Researchers believe that neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain, may be linked to depression. Serotonin is one neurotransmitter linked to the condition. Antidepressants are linked to resolving issues related to neurotransmitters and their receptors, but they may not work in every case.

Life changes are commonly associated with depression, including RBD. These changes might include illness, death in the family, moving to a new house, starting school, or even adjusting to a new family situation. Previous physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are also linked to depression. Many people do not receive therapy after traumatic events, and this plays a significant role in depressive episodes.

Some people become depressed as a result of social isolation, even in short bursts. People are generally social animals, so feelings of loneliness can also lead to feelings of worthlessness, anger, and sadness. Self-created isolation is often unintentional, but patients who experience depressive episodes that include anger may lash out at the people they care about.

Women may tend to associate symptoms of recurrent brief depression with the menstrual cycle, but the two conditions are typically not related. While serotonin may be linked to both RBD and issues like premenstrual dysphoric disorder, they are not the same condition.

Finally, it is important to talk to a medical doctor about your depressive symptoms, as they may actually be linked to a different medical condition like hypothyroidism. The symptoms of the two conditions are commonly confused.

In many cases, more than one cause may lead to RBD. A diagnosis of depression may include examining potential causes to get to the root of the problem.

Recurrent Brief Depression Treatments

Treatment for RBD is similar to that of other types of depression. In many cases, treating depression is about pairing different types of treatments to create a combination that works. Discussing different treatment options with your doctor will help you create an effective treatment plan.

Therapy is a common form of treatment for this type of depression. Psychotherapy comes in several different forms, and different methods may work best based on the causes of depression. In general, therapy provides benefits including better ability adjusting to life changes, improvement in relationships, and ability to design realistic life goals.

Couples and family therapy are helpful in treating environmental influences on depression. Resolving relationship issues can also relieve some of the stress that contributes to negative emotions.

Cognitive behavioral therapy relies on addressing patterns of thought and behavior to find places where you can make positive changes in your life. A professional therapist will help you determine which thoughts and behaviors are contributing to your recurrent brief depression. With the therapist’s help, you may be able to identify patterns that do not benefit your treatment.

Doctors may prescribe medication as a treatment for recurrent brief depression. Commonly prescribed medications include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and mood stabilizers. Common SRIs used to treat depression include citalopram, paroxetine, and escitalopram. Other medications may include atypical antidepressants, tricyclic antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.

The problem with using medication to treat depression is that it can be a bit of a guessing game. Doctors cannot tell exactly which medications you will respond to best. The best indicator that you will respond well to a medication will be if a biological family member has responded well to it in the past. In some cases, doctors may be able to perform genetic tests to determine which medications are a good match. Otherwise, finding the right prescription may take some fine-tuning.

There are still many questions as to which treatment is best for this type of depression. Talking to your doctor about family history and current medical conditions will help both of you determine which options are ideal.

Prevention for Recurrent Brief Depression

There are several ways to prevent recurrent brief depression before the bouts of negative feelings begin. While preventative measures do not always work, many patients express that the depression is less intense when other measures are in place before the recurrent depression begins again. With depression, preventative measures are more about providing as much relief as possible.

First, it is helpful to learn how to identify triggers for depression. Triggers may include certain family members, locations, anniversaries, and events. When you can prepare for an unpleasant time that you know is in the near future, you may be able to lessen the severity of the depressive episode.

Social support is one major prevention method. Depression can be isolating, and many patients find that they are ashamed of the condition. It can be difficult for sufferers to talk about the symptoms of RBD with even their closest friends and family members. On the other hand, it is actually helpful to build a social support network you can talk to during those depressive episodes.

Finding ways to reduce stress can be helpful for many people prone to depression. Some people find stress relief through yoga and meditation, whereas others can take a drive and listen to some music to feel relief. Stress is a common trigger for different types of depression, including RBD. Finding ways to deal with stress appropriately may take some time, but it may also be beneficial to your health.

Fitness and exercise are thought to increase endorphins and serotonin, decreasing depression in many patients. Just half an hour of increased activity can lead to major emotional benefits.

Ultimately, recurrent brief depression is not an issue to overlook or take lightly. Depression can cause emotional and physical pain, even in short bouts. Discuss symptoms of recurrent brief depression with your doctor if you believe you are experiencing symptoms of the condition.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2017
Last Updated:
September 13, 2017
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