Dysthymia is a form of depression that lasts for several weeks to several years. Generally, dysthymia is the medical term for chronic depression, which is usually milder than an episode of major depression.


Depression is often cyclical


People who are depressed can feel sad for a month or two, then it tends to lift away, only to return a year or so later – sometimes not returning for five, six or even 10 years or more. Often, it comes and goes in a long-term cycle. Dysthymia, on the other hand, is a mild depression that lasts for a long time. It also may be cyclical, but when it sets in, those who suffer from dysthymia may feel low for years at a time.


As such, while dysthymia is not considered as dangerous as major depression in terms of suicide risk, dysthymia can, over time, wear someone down. It can feel like a weight carried around for a long, long time. During that time, a major event may occur such as a great loss or an accident. Major events such as these on top of long-term depression can be difficult for some to manage.


The symptoms of depression are self-explanatory. The symptoms of dysthymia are:


  • Sadness or depressed mood lasting months or years
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Lack of enthusiasm and enjoyment in life
  • Insomnia
  • Weight change
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Making choices to increase isolation or thoughts of suicide


Many people understand depression as marked by a feeling of sadness. But depression is clinically more like a “compression” of emotions. Persons who are depressed tend to not feel very happy when an occasion would seem to indicate that was appropriate. They also don’t feel very sad if something sad occurs, because they are trying to not feel either extreme – sadness or happiness. They are keeping both emotions in check.


As such, when something unfortunate occurs with someone with dysthymia, they often do not grieve properly. They may be chronically sad but not allow themselves to grieve a serious event. Thus, they feel sad about an unfortunate event for longer than they should because they have not fully grieved as might be appropriate for certain situations.


Treatment for Dysthymia


A primary care physician can treat depression, including dysthymia, without any help from a talk therapist, but it is often recommended that both strategies be used together. Physicians can prescribe anti-depressants. However, many physicians have limited time to spend with each patient. A talk therapist can provide more time for a client to talk through personal issues, often providing long term relief.

There are several forms of anti-depressants on the market that are effective. You should discuss with your physician what options are available. Include a discussion of side effects. If one medication includes uncomfortable side effects, discuss other medications with your physician. It is recommended that patients and physicians plan together with the best way to stop taking medications such as anti-depressants.

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