Depression is highly treatable, but less than half of those affected receive appropriate care. That’s especially true for one type of depression, called dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder.
Dysthymia typically involves milder and fewer symptoms than major depressive disorders but lasts longer.
A diagnosis for an adult depends on having a depressed mood most of the time for at least two years, along with related symptoms serious enough to interfere with their quality of life.
While dysthymia has much in common with other forms of depression, there are some important differences too.
So what should you do if you think you or a loved one may be affected?
1. Check your symptoms. Individual experiences with any form of depression can vary widely. Common symptoms include feeling sad or hopeless, trouble concentrating, sleep disruptions, and over or under-eating. Some experts believe that emotional rather than physical symptoms are more characteristic of dysthymia.
2. Know your risks. Many factors contribute to depression. Dysthymia is believed to affect twice as many women as men. Chronic stress and family history can also play a role.
3. Consider your age. How dysthymia affects you may depend on your stage in life. Early onset cases tend to be gradual. For seniors, it may be more sudden and more likely to be linked to medical conditions and other stressful events.
Medical Care for Dysthymia
Get diagnosed. Your family doctor can refer you to a mental health professional, or you can find one on your own. They’ll ask about your medical history and conduct a psychiatric assessment.
These strategies can also help:
1. Take medication. Dysthymia is often treated with the same drugs as other forms of depression. Your doctor may prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other antidepressants. Keep in mind that it usually takes a month or more to see the full effects.
2. Try talk therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy and other supportive methods may help, usually in combination with drugs. As dysthymia is long-lasting, you may need extensive sessions.
3. Monitor other conditions. More than 75% of patients with dysthymia have other mental and physical chronic conditions too. Dysthymia also overlaps with major depressive disorder in about 50% of cases. Your wellbeing depends on taking care of your overall health.
Lifestyle Changes for Dealing with Dysthymia
1. Work out regularly. Research shows that exercise is as effective as antidepressants for some patients. It may be difficult to move when you’re feeling down, but the results are worth it.
2. Eat healthily. Sound nutrition can also boost your mood. Focus on delicious whole foods and limit empty calories.
3. Avoid self-medicating. You may be tempted to seek relief by drinking alcohol and using drugs. In reality, this will create more trouble and may interfere with your prescriptions. Reduce stress safely with relaxation techniques and physical exercise.
4. Pace yourself. Even simple tasks can become overwhelming when you’re depressed and tired. Set realistic expectations for yourself. Work at your own pace instead of comparing yourself to others.
5. Ask for support. Let your family and friends know how they can help you. Try to stay connected even when you feel like withdrawing.
6. Keep a journal. Because dysthymia lasts so long, you may assume that the symptoms are a natural part of your personality or daily life. Writing in a journal is one way to notice changes and express your feelings. You may also want to share your observations with your therapist.
Dysthymia is a chronic condition but seeking help as soon as possible can help you lead a fuller life. A combination of medication and talk therapy, along with healthy lifestyle choices, significantly reduces symptoms for most patients.