Low self-esteem, melancholy, sadness, gloom... Who hasn’t experienced feelings like these at some point in their life? But there’s a difference between the odd bout of sadness and on-going sadness that lasts for years.
Dysthymia is a depressive disorder that doesn’t quite fit the diagnosis of depression in itself. While the symptoms are not as serious, they do tend to last longer – often developing into a chronic condition.
The time frame is what really sets dysthymia apart from other depressive disorders. According to psychiatrists, to be diagnosed as dysthymia, the depressive emotional state has to have existed for a minimum of two years in adults, and a year in children.
Not as severe, but just as painful
While symptoms are generally less severe than those associated with major depression (as people rarely experience suicidal thoughts or the desire to self-harm), living with dysthymia is by no means easy. In fact, as their symptoms are not as obvious, many people with dysthymia have to fight harder to get their illness recognised by others, and to get the help they need to be able to deal with the situation. In addition, people with dysthymia often experience frequent bouts of severe depression, which results in a type of double depression – characterised by highs and lows within a state of generalised melancholy and apathy.
Dysthymic disorder is often accompanied by other related mental problems, like personality disorders or generalised anxiety disorder.
Dysthymia: Cause and Risk factor
As with so many other mental illnesses, there’s no one cause for dysthymic disorder. Specialists agree that there are several biochemical (involving changes to the brain’s neurotransmitters), genetic, psychological and environmental risk factors that contribute to the appearance of the disorder, although they do admit that pinpointing to what extent each factor is involved (in order to determine which one is ‘at fault’) is an impossible task.
Generally speaking, dysthymia is more commonly found among people with a family history of the disorder who are exposed to (or have been exposed to) emotionally stressful situations. In contrast with major depression, which tends to affect both sexes equally, dysthymia is five times more common in women than in men.
As with major depression, dysthymia is usually treated with antidepressants, with doctors favouring selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as they have a low risk of side effects. These drugs are sometimes accompanied by an additional medication (whether it be a mood stabiliser, like lithium, or an anxiolytic) to control the bouts of anxiety.
However, medication on its own will only help up to a point. As with other mental illnesses, an effective treatment regime should include some kind of psychotherapy. For more information regarding the benefits to be had from treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy, please visit our magazine section with previous articles published by our editorial team.
Accepting your illness
While no two people are alike, most people find that their dysthymia can last for years. And unfortunately, even when you do notice an improvement, you are rarely able to get rid of your symptoms for good.
While it’s important to accept that you can’t always change the hand you’ve been dealt, you should remember that how you deal with it is up to you. So, if you have dysthymia don’t despair – all you need to do is to learn how to fight the symptoms.
Thanks to medication, psychotherapy and a realistic but fearless attitude, a great number of people have been able to get their symptoms under control – going on to live very full and satisfying lives. So remember, when it comes to happiness and purpose, there’s no quick fix – you’ll have to put in the work, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Author: Purificación Salgado, Journalist
Last Modification: November 4, 2016
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