Dysthymia - Symptoms | Types | Causes | Risks | Diagnosis | Treatment
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Published on Mar 19, 2019 and last reviewed on Nov 25, 2022   -  5 min read


Dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder, is a persistent depressive illness. Read this article to learn about dysthymia in detail.


What Is Dysthymia?

Dysthymia, otherwise called persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is a chronic form of depression. People suffering from this illness lose interest in normal daily activities, feel hopeless, lack productivity, and have low self-esteem. These feelings can also affect appetite and sleep. These symptoms can last for years and can interfere with the person’s relationships, work, school, and other daily routines.

In this type of depression, the symptoms are less severe and last for a longer time. As it is a chronic condition, it is more difficult to cope with the symptoms. Treatment with talk therapy and medication has been found to be helpful for patients with dysthymia.

What Are the Symptoms of Dysthymia?

In dysthymia, the symptoms are similar to depression, but here the symptoms occur on most days for at least two years. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Feeling fatigued.
  • Poor appetite or overeating.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Social isolation.
  • Irritability.
  • Negative attitude.
  • Decreased productivity.
  • Anger.
  • Feeling sad for no reason.
  • Sudden increase or decrease in weight.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities.
  • Restlessness.
  • Problem concentrating.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Feeling guilty.

As the symptoms appear during childhood and adolescence, the symptoms to be aware of in kids are:

  • Irritability.
  • Moody.
  • Bad performance in school.
  • Behave badly.
  • Problems interacting with other students.

What Are the Types of Dysthymia?

Depending on when the symptoms start, dysthymia can be either-

Early Onset - Before 21 years of age.

Late Onset - After 21 years of age.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of Dysthymia?

The exact cause of this chronic condition is still not clear, but like all other major depressive illnesses, dysthymia is also caused by more than one factor like:

  • Physical and chemical changes in the brain.
  • Family history.
  • Previous history of any mental illness.
  • Traumatic life event.
  • Trauma to the brain.
  • People who have low self-esteem or who are too dependent or pessimistic.
  • Chronic illness like diabetes or heart problems.

What Are the Complications Seen With Dysthymia?

The complications seen are:

  • Drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Bad quality of life.
  • Can develop major depression, anxiety disorder, and mood swings.
  • Relationship problems.
  • Decreased productivity in school and work.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Other mental health disorders.
  • Chronic physical illness.

How Is Dysthymia Diagnosed?

The tests and examinations that your doctor will subject you to if he or she suspects dysthymia are:

History - The doctor will talk to you about your symptoms in depth and will ask you questions to determine the cause of your depression. If it is related to some underlying health condition, then the doctor might do physical examinations.

Lab Tests - The doctor might order some blood tests or other tests to rule out any medical condition that might be the cause of your depression.

Psychological Evaluation - Here, the doctor discusses your thoughts, feelings, and behavior in detail to come to a diagnosis. With the help of a questionnaire, the doctor might be able to come to the exact cause and psychological condition.

Dysthymia is diagnosed by some doctors depending on the presence of symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The symptoms listed are:

  • Disturbed mood for almost every day or most of the day.
  • Poor appetite or overeating.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Fatigue.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Feeling hopeless.

If an adult has most of these symptoms almost every day for two or more years, then they are suffering from dysthymia. For children, this diagnosis is made if the child is irritable and moody for at least a year.

What Are the Treatment Options for Dysthymia?

The treatment options are:


Many types of antidepressants are used in the treatment. The medicines used are -

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Fluoxetine and Sertraline.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) like Amitriptyline and Amoxapine.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Desvenlafaxine and Duloxetine.


Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a way to deal with mental health problems by talking to a mental health professional. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a type of psychotherapy, is found to be useful in treating dysthymia.

Lifestyle Changes:

Along with medicines and therapy, employing some lifestyle changes can have a positive effect on the treatment outcome. Some of the things that you can try are-

  • Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes.
  • Consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol.
  • St. John’s wort and fish oil are said to treat depression.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation.
  • Maintaining a journal about daily activities will help.

When to See a Doctor for Dysthymia?

If you notice these symptoms almost every day, then it is best you consult a psychiatrist, as it can be a sign of dysthymia. As the symptoms occur for many years, you might feel that it is a part of normal life, but it can cause serious complications. Never ignore the signs and symptoms and get help immediately before it gets worse.

How Can Dysthymia Be Prevented?

The following steps can help prevent almost all kinds of mental illness -

  • Manage stress and anxiety to boost self-confidence.
  • In times of crisis, reach out to family and friends.
  • If one notices signs of depression, get help immediately before it worsens.
  • Spend time outdoors and take out time to do things that we like.
  • Exercise regularly and eat healthily.
  • Most importantly, let other people help us.

How Is Psychotherapy Useful in Treating Dysthymia?

It helps;

  • Adjust to your current situation.

  • To identify behaviors that contribute to and aggravate depression.

  • Replace negative behaviors with healthy and positive thoughts.

  • Build strong relationships with others.

  • Control symptoms, thus, improving the quality of life.


Dysthymia is a chronic disorder and takes time to recover, so do not stop the medications and treatment halfway as there are high chances of relapse. If you notice signs and symptoms of depression and feel shy to consult a psychiatrist

Frequently Asked Questions


What Does Dysthymic Mean?

Dysthymia is a psychological condition in which the affected patient suffers from a persistent depressive disorder. In this condition, the affected person has the symptoms of depression that continue to present over a long time. The person continuously lacks interest in daily activities and has low self-confidence. The person also feels a sense of inadequacy.


Is Dysthymia a Disability?

Dysthymia is usually less severe than the original form of depression. It limits the individual’s normal activities. It is not a physical disability, but it comes under social security disability. If you are suffering from any of these problems, you should consult the doctor immediately.


How Long Does Dysthymia Last?

Dysthymia is frequently called as mild or moderate depression. The symptoms presented are less severe than the actual depression. It can last over a period of one year to two years. With proper professional help, the affected individuals can lead a healthy life. The medications for these treatments will be prescribed by a psychiatrist.


What Is the Best Medication for Dysthymia?

The best treatment for dysthymia is usually psychotherapy, combined with medications. The medications used are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tricyclic Antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. All these three groups of drugs are said to be equally effective in dysthymia. These drugs should not be self-medicated. You should get recommendations from your doctor before consuming these medications.


Which Antidepressant Is Best for Dysthymia?

The most commonly used drugs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Antidepressants like Venflaxine, tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA) like Imipramine are very effective in dysthymia. Any person who experiences symptoms of dysthymia must avoid self medications as these medicines have various side effects.


What Is Pure Dysthymic Syndrome?

The pure dysthymic syndrome includes recent (in less than two years) onset of dysthymic disorder. Here, the Full criteria for a major depressive episode have not been met in at least the past two years. The patient should present with the symptoms of mild depression only.


What Is Dysthymia in Psychology?

The psychological definition of dysthymia is that “ a mood disorder that is characterized by chronic, long-standing mildly depressed or irritable mood which is most frequently accompanied by other symptoms like eating and sleeping disturbances, fatigue, and poor self- confidence. This is also called as the Dysthymic disorder.


How Common Is Dysthymia?

It is one one the common psychological problems for which patients come for a consultation in a clinical setting. It is less severe than the actual depression. Globally, it affects almost 1.5% of the world’s population. It is common in women than in men. Worldwide statistics showed that women are affected by approximately 30%, while men are affected only by 1.9%.


What Is the Difference Between Dysthymia and Cyclothymia?

Dysthymia and cyclothymia are two different psychological problems. Dysthymia is a mild, long-standing form of depression and cyclothymia is a soft case of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia involves fluctuating between mild depression and mild mania. The person will also be normal in cyclothymia at times. These diseases have mild depressive symptoms in common that might confuse the diagnosis of the disease.


How to Help Someone With Dysthymia?

If someone is suffering from dysthymia, all we can do is support them in every possible means and ways. We should ensure that they are going to be okay. When they are going through the symptomatic phase, we can be there for them and help them reach the mental health care professional. The important support would be by not discriminating for the illness they are going through.


What Is the Difference Between Dysthymia and Major Depression?

Dysthymia is a mild depressive disorder comparatively, and it is diagnosed if the person has experienced depression for at least one whole year. A major depressive disorder is more severe when the affected person experiences major symptoms, and 90 percent of the kids who are treated for this disorder respond very well to treatment.


How to Beat Dysthymia?

Prope guidance from a psychologist is mandatory to beat dysthymia. Proper intake of the medication prescribed on the correct dosages is essential. It is also necessary to build healthy self-esteem through lifestyle changes and psychotherapy sessions. Ask your doctor to teach you a few ways to beat dysthymia.


How to Treat Dysthymia Naturally?

Dysthymia cannot be cured naturally in most instances. Proper medical treatment and psychological guidance are needed most of the time. However, through some natural lifestyle changes, the recovery can be made easier. Lifestyle changes like healthy food intake, meditation, yoga, good restful sleep, and mindful avoidance of destructive behaviors and triggers of depression could be helpful.


How Long Can You Be on Short Term Disability?

Dysthymia lasts typically for about two years in adults. It does not exceed that time period if adequately treated. Proper treatment would require psychotherapy and medicines intake, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). If lifestyle modifications are added to it, dysthymia will not progress; it can also be a short-term disability.


Is Dysthymia a Personality Disorder?

Dysthymia is characterized by persistent depressive disorders or the group of mood disorders. However, the symptoms of dysthymia usually present as a gloomy personality. The affected person usually complains of not being happy, being less productive, being less interested in daily activities. Those changes in mood affect the individual’s normal functioning routine. It is not a personality disorder.


Does Dysthymia Qualify for Disability?

Only when dysthymia limits the quality of work in the affected individual’s normal routine, it is qualified as a disability. If not, it does not comes under disability. It is less severe than the actual major depressive disorder. It presents with more severe symptoms and social disability. Dysthymia often recovers on its own with proper treatment and psychological guidance.


Can You Have Dysthymia and Bipolar?

Dysthymia and Bipolar can not be diagnosed at the same time. However, the main symptom of dysthymia is depression. The combination of depressive symptoms usually mimics the symptoms of Bipolar. But it is important to note that, In Bipolar disorder, the patient suffers from severe cycles between mania and depression, which is not common with dysthymia. Bipolar disorder is a more severe disorder when compared to dysthymia.

Last reviewed at:
25 Nov 2022  -  5 min read




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