Depressive personality disorder (DPD) is an unofficial mental health condition characterized by the presence of several different symptoms that leave affected individuals in chronically depressed or melancholy moods. Despite the unofficial status of the disorder, current evidence indicates that depressive personality traits can seriously diminish a person’s sense of well-being, especially when these traits appear in combination with diagnosable major depression. According to the results of a study published in 2012 by Lund University, depressive people respond relatively well to treatment with forms of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy.
Depressive Personality Disorder Basics
From the late 1960s to 1980, depressive personality disorder was officially recognized as a diagnosable mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, a professional organization that creates the standard definitions for mental health disorders in the United States medical community. However, after 1980, this organization delisted DPD as a distinct illness and folded it into a catchall category of unofficial conditions called personality disorders not otherwise specified, or PD-NOS. According to previously established guidelines, people with DPD have a minimum of five separate traits that indicate a persistent depressive outlook. Examples of these traits include recurring brooding and worrying, persistent feelings of worthlessness, a negative outlook toward others, a negative outlook toward oneself, the daily presence of a “down” mood, recurring feelings of self-recrimination or guilt, and a generally pessimistic point of view.
Depressive personality disorder differs from major depression and other forms of officially recognized depression such as minor depression and dysthymic disorder (dysthymia). While the symptoms of depression appear for discrete periods of time, the symptoms of DPD are ingrained personality traits that dominate the affected individual’s worldview from day to day. Still, depression and depressive personality disorder share many features, and some mental health professionals view DPD as nothing more than a subset of depression symptoms. People with DPD also have certain traits commonly associated with an officially recognized personality disorder called avoidant personality disorder.
According to a literature review conducted by the researchers at Lund University, roughly 13 percent of all adults in the United States, Europe, and Canada have depressive personality traits that produce low self-esteem, a generally depressed and/or anxious mental outlook, and a lowered sense of well-being or life satisfaction. More than 40 percent of people who seek professional help for mental health issues show signs of a depressive personality; when compared to people without depressive traits, these people often have more serious overall symptoms of psychiatric illness. When combined with the symptoms of diagnosable depression, DPD-related traits are especially resistant to effective treatment.
Participants in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) learn how to identify false, damaging, or dysfunctional mental reactions that adversely affect their judgment during moments of everyday or extraordinary stress. They also learn how to replace those harmful reactions with alternatives that increase their sense of well-informed judgment and secure well-being. Depending on the individual, a psychotherapist can conduct CBT in a group, one-on-one, or family-centered setting. Whatever the setting, the therapy is usually conducted for anywhere from 10 to 20 separate sessions.
Participants in psychodynamic therapy learn how to identify past relationships, behaviors, or conflicts that contribute to current poor decision-making during moments of everyday or extraordinary stress. According to the tenets of the therapy, this kind of self-investigation frees the individual from the need to react in ways that produce mental harm. The theories underlying the psychodynamic approach go all the way back to some of the original ideas of psychoanalysis first established in the early 20th century.
The researchers at Lund University examined the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy as treatment options for people with depressive personality traits. They concluded that these two forms of psychotherapy produce significant treatment benefits, even in cases that combine depressive personality characteristics with the symptoms of diagnosable major depression, minor depression or dysthymia. In fact, in contrast to the researchers’ expectations at the beginning of their examination, people with depressive traits benefit from CBT and psychodynamic therapy just as much as people with various mental health problems who do not have depressive personalities.
The Lund University researchers did not investigate the long-term benefits of psychotherapy for people with depressive personalities, and therefore do not know how long the positive results of these treatments last. They also did not address all of the potential interactions between DPD and depression. Still, they believe that, at a minimum, their findings point to an effective way of dealing with the short-term effects of depressive personality traits.