Dysthymia: Are You Suffering From Chronic Depression?

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Story at-a-glance

  • Dysthymia is an enduring form of depression that is characterized by having a constantly depressed mood for at least two years (in children, dysthymia can be diagnosed by having constant depression for a year)
  • As with other types of depression, dysthymia is manageable, as long as the right treatment methods are used

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 years (in children, dysthymia can be diagnosed by having constant depression for a year).1,2

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

Difficulty concentrating

Indecisiveness, low self-esteem and/or pessimistic self-image

Dysthymia is likely to affect women two to three times more than men.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.

MORE ABOUT DEPRESSION

Depression: Introduction

What is Depression?

Depression in Men and Women

Childhood Depression

Depression During Pregnancy

Depression Duration

Depression Causes

Types of Depression

Depression Symptoms

Depression Effects

Depression Treatment

Depression Prevention

Depression Diet

Postpartum Depression

Manic Bipolar Depression

Major Depressive Disorder

Depression Test

Chronic Depression

Seasonal Depression

Psychotic Depression

Depression FAQ

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Seasonal Depression

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1, 5, 9 Psych Central, “A Current Look at Chronic Depression”
  • 2, 3, 7, 10 AllAboutDepression.com, Dysthymic Disorder
  • 4, 6, 8 Harvard Health Publication, Dysthymia
  • 11 Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(1):66-72