Dysthymia: It's Not A Fault In Character But A Legitimate Mental Illness

Lifestyle & Health

What is dysthymia?

Persistent depressive disorder (also called ‘dysthymia’) is a term used to describe long-term depression. Compared to major depression, symptoms of dysthymia are milder but last longer. If an adult has had the symptoms for more than two years, he or she meets the criteria for dysthymia diagnosis. The disorder affects 4.1% of women and 2.2% of men at some point in their lives. People with dysthymia often get used to their symptoms and don’t get the help they need, but dysthymia can be successfully treated with antidepressants, talk therapy, or a combination of both.

What are the symptoms of dysthymia?

Dysthymia symptoms can change in severity over the time and may even disappear (for no longer than two months) and then come back.

Common symptoms of dysthymia include the following:

  • being uninterested in everyday activities and things you used to enjoy;
  • lasting feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, and anxiety;
  • lack of energy;
  • decreased ability to concentrate, think, and make decisions;
  • low self-esteem, constant self-criticism, and feeling of guilt;
  • irritability and anger;
  • sleep troubles – disturbed sleep or sleeping too much;
  • decreased or increased appetite and resulting weight changes.

When to see a doctor

It may seem that you’ve had depression for so long; it’s become an integral part of your life and personality. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are trained professionals who are able to help. You can ask your doctor to recommend someone or contact a mental health professional directly.

If you’re contemplating self-harm, call 911 immediately.

What causes persistent depressive disorder?

It’s not exactly clear what causes persistent depressive disorder. It may result from a combination of factors, e.g., a person with a hereditary predisposition to depression may develop the disorder as a result of a traumatic event that wouldn’t have caused the same response in someone who is not prone to depression.

Experts think that the following factors contribute to dysthymia:

  • Physical differences in the brain. The differences between a healthy brain and a depressed brain can actually be seen on a brain scan, but it’s still not clear how and why they develop;
  • Brain chemistry. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate your mood, and when there’s an imbalance, an individual experiences depressive symptoms;
  • Sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep may result from depression, can make it worse, and is also considered to be one of its causes;
  • Imbalance of cortisol and thyroid hormones. It’s not exactly clear whether it’s hormone imbalance that contributes to depression or if it’s the other way around (it can be both);
  • Family history. If your close blood relative has or had depression, you’re more likely to develop it too;
  • Stressful life events. Loss of a loved one, divorce, being fired, or being chronically stressed can trigger depression;
  • Being bullied, neglected, or abused as a child.

Points to keep in mind if you have dysthymia

  • don’t hesitate to get help if you have depressive symptoms – treatment actually works for most people;
  • don’t be too hard on yourself – set achievable goals;
  • don’t push your loved ones away – their attempts to help may seem awkward, but they have your best interests in mind;
  • do something that used to make you feel good – reread a favorite book, go to see a movie, or see an old friend;
  • start exercising – it doesn’t have to be intense, walking or stretching will do just fine;
  • eat a balanced and diverse diet;
  • avoid alcohol and drugs – they only aggravate depression;
  • postpone major decisions until you feel better – career change, marriage or divorce, a plan to move can wait until you’re able to think clearer;
  • be patient – both antidepressants and talk therapy take time to start to really work, so give it a chance.

Source: Mayo Clinic, University of Rochester Medical Center, Harvard Health, Encyclopedia.com

READ ALSO: 7 Natural Ways To Relax And Reduce Anxiety


This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.

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