Recurrent brief depression is beginning to gain recognition as a valid mental disorder. It is characterized by periods of sadness, lasting less than two weeks but longer than two days. Because it's less well-known, it may often be confused with other forms of mental illness.
In any given year, about 5 percent of people suffer from recurrent brief depression, according to the Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. The condition is most prevalent among young adults. Recurrent brief depression refers to depressive symptoms that occur for at least two days, but fewer than two weeks, at least once a month for a year. The rest of the time, people with recurrent brief depression experience normal, positive mood. Both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM-IV, and the World Health Organization list recurrent brief depression as a mental disorder, but the DSM-IV clarifies that the condition is in need of further research.
Recurrent brief depression was first reported in 1985 by Angst and Dobler-Mikola. In a study in Zurich, Switzerland, they followed a group of young adults who showed disrupted quality of life and many depressive symptoms. In one year, 4.4 percent of the participants met all diagnostic criteria for major depression except time frame; they did not show symptoms for a full two weeks.
While people with major depression experience symptoms for two weeks or more, people with recurrent brief depression experience depression for a few days each month. Like major depression, recurrent brief depression is now diagnosed when the person exhibits 5 of 9 possible depression symptoms and shows diminished quality of life. People with recurrent brief depression may be more likely to commit suicide than those with major depression. Both major depression and recurrent brief depression often co-exist with anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of recurrent brief depression are similar to those of major depression. Possible symptoms include depressed mood most of the day, diminished interest or pleasure in activities, weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite, sleep problems, restless or slowed movements, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, trouble thinking or concentrating, thoughts of death or suicidal ideation. Symptoms of recurrent brief depression tend to appear at the same time of the month for some people, although in women they do not seem to be related to the menstrual cycle. Sleep disturbances are an especially common symptom.
Some people with recurrent brief depression may be misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). To others, it may appear that a person with recurrent brief depression has an unstable mood, a common feature of BPD. They may also have other common BPD symptoms such as suicide attempts, impulsivity and relationship problems. Recurrent brief depression may also sometimes by confused with bipolar disorder, a condition marked by intense mood changes.