Depression can be a long-lasting disorder, stretching on for weeks, months or even years. In some people, this condition becomes chronic — they sometimes feel as if they’ve been depressed their whole lives and cannot remember a time when they were not depressed.
If this is how you’re feeling, then you might be suffering from dysthymia. Although it’s less severe than major depressive disorder, dysthymia can be just as debilitating. Here are some important facts you need to know about this disorder.
What Sets Chronic Depression Apart From Clinical Depression?
Dysthymia is an enduring form of depression that is characterized by having a constantly depressed mood for at least two years1 (in children, dysthymia can be diagnosed by having constant depression for a year2). People who have this disorder often feel as if their consistently sad or bad mood is part of their personality.3
Dysthymia is similar to major depressive disorder (MDD), although its symptoms are usually less intense. What’s more, while MDD manifests episodically, dysthymia is more constant and can persist for long periods. It may actually start during childhood and continue on until adulthood.4
Dysthymia Signs and Symptoms
On some days, a person with dysthymia may feel fine or may experience moments of joy, but this good mood lasts no longer than a few weeks or months.5 Other symptoms of dysthymia include:6
Having a low or irritable mood
Loss of energy
Decrease in pleasure
Feeling unmotivated or disconnected from the world
Increase or decrease in appetite, leading to either weight gain or loss
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Indecisiveness, low self-esteem and/or pessimistic self-image
Women are more affected by dysthymia than men, with a lifetime prevalence rate of 8 percent (compared to just 4.8 percent in males).7 It may also run in families, and may be triggered by early tragic events, like losing a parent. It can also be difficult to diagnose because some people believe that the “sadness” is part of their personality. According to Harvard Health Publications:8
“[A] person with dysthymia tends to believe that depression is part of his or her character. The person with dysthymia may not even think to talk about this depression with doctors, family members or friends.”
Prevent the Potential Effects of Dysthymia Before It’s Too Late
Health experts say that dysthymia is “paradoxical,” since it may appear mild day-to-day, but the long-term effects are actually brutal.9 Despite its symptoms being less severe than clinical depression, dysthymia should not be taken lightly because it can actually lead to the latter. This is called “double depression.”10
According to Dr. David J. Hellerstein, a research psychiatrist at New York State Psychiatric Institute and a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, 80 to 90 percent of people with dysthymia develop major depression. This disorder can also increase the risk of suicidal behavior, according to one study.11
If you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from this condition, seek professional help immediately. As with other types of depression, dysthymia is manageable, as long as the right treatment methods are used. Antidepressants are ill-advised, as they may cause more severe side effects.