- Dysthymia is a form of depression characterized by less intense symptoms and feelings related to depression; it can be summarized as a general sadness or lack of interest/pleasure in life.
- Additional symptoms of dysthymia include anger, fatigue, loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness, and irritability.
- In order to be diagnosed with dysthymia, the individual must experience a depressed mood for most of the day, more days than not, for at least two years; additionally they must present two of six symptoms set forth by the DSM.
- Fortunately, there is treatment available to those with dysthymia: psychotherapy and antidepressants prove to help these individuals combat the symptoms of this condition.
- Studies have shown that a combination of these two methods is the most effective when it comes to treatment of dysthymia.
Dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, is a form of chronic depression that differs from major depression in degree and duration. With dysthymia, the pain and disruption are of a lower intensity and can be described as a general sadness or lack of interest in life.
What Symptoms Are Characteristic of Dysthymia?
As mentioned above, sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in life are characteristic of this condition. Additionally, an individual with dysthymia might present the following:
- General discontent
- Excessive hunger
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sleepiness, or insomnia
- Lack of concentration or slowed activity
- Low self-esteem
Diagnostic Criteria for Dysthymia
The aforementioned are symptoms that might accompany dysthymia. That said, there are certain criteria an individual must meet in order to be diagnosed with this disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), one must experience a depressed mood that occurs for most of the day, more days than not, for at least two years (or one year for children and teens). Additionally, the individual must present at least two of the following six symptoms:
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Sleep disruptions
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
In addition, no major depressive episode has been present during the first two years of this disturbance, and the presenting issue is not better explained by major depressive disorder.
Treatment for Dysthymia
Oftentimes, those with dysthymia will initially seek treatment because of an increase in stress or other difficulties. They may not recognize their symptoms as those that accompany a form of depression. However, once they do seek treatment, they can receive a proper diagnosis and start treatment. Effective treatments include:
Psychotherapy: In psychotherapy, a mental health professional will first evaluate the patient to best understand their state of functioning and presenting issue. From there, the therapist will tailor this treatment to their patient’s needs, but ultimately, assist them making healthy changes that will help them combat the symptoms of their disorder.
Antidepressants: This form of medication is effective for those with dysthymia because it helps them to maintain a healthy level of energy. Additionally, it prevents them from dipping into the lowest level of despair. The most commonly prescribed antidepressants are a group called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that a combination of these two treatment methods proved most effective. In this study, patients were assigned to one of three groups: the first group underwent a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy, a second was administered antidepressants, and a third utilized a combo of the two. The researchers noted that the third treatment—a combo of the two—was “whoppingly” more effective than either was alone.