Dysthymia is a less severe, but long term form of depression. Although the depressed state of dysthymia is not as severe as with major depression, it can be just as disabling. Symptoms of dysthymia include low self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness and despair, inability to find pleasure or interest in activities and life, social withdrawal, always feeling tired, feelings of guilt or brooding about the past. Dysthymia is less likely to cause changes in sleep patterns and excessive weight gain or loss than those suffering from major depression. Dysthymia is diagnosed when depressive symptoms last for more than two years in adults (or one year in children) and a person has not been symptom-free for more than two months at a time. Individuals with dysthymia may manage to function well enough in their daily life that they are not aware they have an illness. They may believe their symptoms are just really a part of who they are. They may not know that if they seek treatment they can be helped.
About 3-6% of the population is affected by dysthymia. People with dysthymia often have their first symptoms earlier in life than those with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. Dysthymia sometimes runs in families but is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics and stresses in the person’s life and environment. It is important to realize that, like depression, dysthymia is a chemical imbalance in the brain and is treatable. Treatment may include support groups, medication, talk therapy, or other strategies. Talk to your doctor to decide on the best treatment options if you or a family member has dysthymia. Support groups are also a good source of up to date information and can help connect you with others affected by depression. See also depression.