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what is dysthymia
November 4, 2021

What is Dysthymia?

Dysthymia (dis-THIGH-mee-uh)—aka dysthymic disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and chronic depression—is a form of medical depression that lasts at least two years and is less disruptive to daily functioning than major depressive disorder. Unfortunately for those who struggle with dysthymia, “less disruptive” does not mean “insignificant”: people with this condition (at least 3 percent of the U.S. population) are more likely to be unemployed, drink heavily, or experience suicidal ideation. They also have more health problems overall—including an 80 to 90 percent chance of major depressive episodes.  

Symptoms of Dysthymia

You may have dysthymia if you’ve experienced “black moods” almost every day for an extended period of time. Besides general “down” feelings, typical dysthymia symptoms include:

  • An overall sense of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem (“What’s the use trying—I never get anything right”)
  • Chronic pessimism (“Nothing will ever change”)
  • Low-level performance due to ongoing fatigue and lack of initiative
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Chronic low enthusiasm, and/or losing interest in favorite activities
  • Regularly avoiding or procrastinating on new challenges
  • A habit of ruminating (dwelling on “what if” worries and other negative thoughts)
  • Sleep problems and/or unhealthy eating habits
  • Irritability (“Just when I almost had everything under control, someone/something interrupts with new demands”)
  • Inability to “snap out of it” or to develop consistent positive-thinking habits
  • Increased drinking or drug use, sometimes culminating in addiction

The illness often runs in families and may be associated with trauma or introverted temperament. Many people with dysthymia are perfectionistic thinkers who see every inconvenience as a disaster, and every suggestion as a judgment on their competence.

Dysthymia Needs Medical Treatment

Dysthymia often goes undiagnosed and untreated for years, partly because its symptoms can be mistaken for personality quirks:

  • “He’s always had grumpy tendencies.”
  • “She’s a born pessimist.”
  • “I’m just the moody type.”

Assuming “that’s just the way I am,” plus fear of being stigmatized for seeking treatment, leads many people to resign themselves to chronic misery.

True dysthymia (as opposed to temporary bouts with non-medical depression) is an illness that requires formal diagnosis, therapy, and often medication. If you suspect you have it, start by scheduling a checkup with your regular doctor: first to determine if any of your symptoms have physical causes, and secondly to be referred for a mental-health evaluation.

What Else to Do About Dysthymia

While a dysthymia diagnosis requires long-term professional treatment, there’s much you can do personally to speed recovery and prevent relapse.

  • Eat a healthy diet: high in protein and fresh produce, low on processed foods and caffeine. Especially, minimize or completely eliminate alcohol and drugs: having dysthymia places you in a higher-risk category for developing addiction.
  • Get 7–9 hours of sleep each night. If you have insomnia issues, don’t take sleeping pills: like alcohol, these can prove addictive or otherwise create worse problems. Improve your sleep with natural relaxation techniques and a peaceful bedroom environment.
  • Get at least 15–30 minutes of exercise daily, preferably outdoors. It generates natural endorphins to combat dysthymia.
  • Practice gratitude daily. Keep a “count your blessings” journal with no negative comments or qualifications allowed.
  • Keep your to-do list small: overload feeds exhaustion, frustration, and depression. Clear your schedule of unnecessary items (starting with excess screen use, which can itself feed dysthymia), and seek out opportunities to invest that newly available time in your natural talents and passions, plus relaxation and self-care.
  • Get someone to hold you accountable, preferably by joining you in healthy activities. You’re sure to have days when you “don’t feel like” doing the right thing, and giving in to such feelings often begins a slide back into full-blown dysthymia. It’s easier to stick to healthy habits when you know someone else is counting on you.
  • Build a support network of positive, empathetic friends. Knowing that others believe in you and care about you is another key factor in overcoming dysthymia.

Find Freedom from Addiction and Depression

If you have substance use disorder, there’s a high chance you also have some form of depressive or anxiety disorder. Beach House’s dual diagnosis treatment program will help you recover from both illnesses and live a happier, more effective life. Contact us today with your questions on addiction, psychiatric issues, and related struggles.

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