Dysthymia (dysthymic disorder) is a chronic depression, although a milder and lower grade type than major depression. It occurs for a longer time, often over a 1-2 year period sometimes longer. The symptoms are not as intense or disabling as major depression although it remains a serious condition and one which requires care and treatment as its consequences are serious, including functional impairment such as unemployment and an increased risk of suicide.
The symptoms are a low or dark mood every day for at least two years, often co-occurring symptoms include tiredness and fatigue, frequent irritability, low self-esteem, dimished productivity, pessimism, sleep disturbance and an increased or decreased appetite. Sufferers of dysthymia often report not feeling at full steam or being able to feel fully happy and enjoy life they compare it to slow water torture, a deadening feelings that doesn’t go away.
The Greek word dysthymia means bad state of mind or ill-humor.
If not effectively treated dysthymia will likely develop to depression. Dysthymia and major depression exist on a continuum. The difficulty is in identification and treatment, a lot of people think “this is just life” and try to push on and get on with it. Many people with dysthymia report lifelong depression and also unexplained happiness in preadolescent childhood.
The prevalence of dysthymia and its chronic nature makes it the most frequent condition seen by psychologists. Nearly half of people with dysthymia have a symptom that also occurs in major depression, shortened REM latency — that is, they start rapid eye movement (vivid dreaming) sleep unusually early in the night. Unable to reach deeper cycles they often wake up weary and tired and exhausted, struggle to get out of bed with problems of irritability and frustration at other at always being flat and tired.
Two important quotes about dysthymia, take note:
Most people with dysthymia are undertreated. They usually see only their family doctors, who often fail to diagnose the problem. They may only complain about physical symptoms, or fail to complain at all because the disorder has become so much a part of them that they believe that is simply how life is.*
People with dysthymia are often thought of as being overly critical, constantly complaining and incapable of having fun.
In terms of treatment, a combination of medication and talking therapies – psychotherapy or counselling – is best. At How I Beat we advocate a recovery framework which includes connecting with social supports such as mutual support groups, learning and helping others with similar problems when you recover.
Why is this important?
You can still socially isolate while on medication and seeing a psychotherapist. Real healing is about integrating back with the community on various levels and enjoying the range of emotions that comes with broadening social circles. See the Roberto in the video below to see an example of this.
If you have a primary care doctor, talk to him or her about your symptoms or seek help directly from a mental health provider. If you’re reluctant to see a mental health professional, reach out to someone else who may be able to help guide you to treatment, whether it’s a friend or loved one, a teacher, a faith leader or someone else you trust.
There are genetic vulnerabilities to dysthymia. Often it can be passed from parent to offspring. Stressors in the environment, like major depression the inability to manage stress and changes are a key part of the condition as dysthymia often develops around loss or significant environmental change for a person. See our article on major depression especially the symptom list for more information about this.
Stories about dysthymia are not easily discovered the net, as the condition is not as obvious as major depression.
People on the net who fight and beat dysthymia
Videos on Dysthymia:
First is a nice video from Mental Health Guru:
Second is a professional talking about how undiagnosed and untreated dysthymia actually is:
How to beat dysthymia?
Like major depression, medication coupled with psychological counselling has been proven as an effective way to treat dysthymia. With chronic conditions it is hard to break out of habits that take hold of the mind. Practicing CBT and changing cognitive patterns is essential. People who suffer dysthymia often live fairly unstructured lives, even in spite of having basic structure of work, so scheduling in time to do chores, take care of yourself and have quality time to spend with others and truly love yourself is vital.
Avoid isolation at all costs, read about how to overcome depression and books designed to help people. Avoid negative people and take care of yourself: eat healthy foods, exercise regularly. Recovery takes time and patience, chronic conditions are not resolved overnight so setbacks and frustrated are to be expected.