Dysthymia and Cyclothymia: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:06 Mood Disorders
  • 1:32 Dysthymia
  • 3:20 Cyclothymia
  • 5:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What happens if someone feels depressed but doesn't meet the criteria for major depressive disorder? Or if someone seems to have a light case of bipolar disorder? In this lesson, we'll look closer at the mood disorders dysthymia and cyclothymia.

Mood Disorders

For as long as anyone can remember, Archie has been depressed. Not really depressed, just sad a lot of the time. He suffers from insomnia and eats too much. Sometimes he'll feel OK for a few days, but, soon enough, his symptoms come back.

Betsy also sometimes suffers from mild depression, like Archie. But she also sometimes feels really happy and energized. She'll go for days at a time with very little sleep, but she feels alert and awake. During those times, she also feels like she could conquer the world.

Both Archie and Betsy are suffering from mood disorders, which are psychological disorders involving abnormal or exaggerated emotions for long periods of time.

The most common mood disorders are major depressive disorder, which involves a deep depression for at least two weeks, and bipolar disorder or manic depression, which involves cycling between depression and mania.

Major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder usually involve a loss of functioning. That is, people with those disorders have trouble holding down a job or staying in relationships. But there are two other disorders, dysthymia and cyclothymia, which involve some of the symptoms of major depressive disorder or manic depression, but are less severe and allow people to function better in their lives.


Remember Archie? He feels blue a lot, has insomnia, and eats a lot. His girlfriend thinks he has major depressive disorder, which is what most people think of when they think of depression. But Archie heard that major depressive disorder comes with a lot more symptoms than he has, and those symptoms seem to be more severe than his.

So does that mean Archie is OK? That this is just who he is, and there's nothing he can do about it? Not at all! When a person has mild symptoms of depression most of the time for at least two years, it's called dysthymia or dysthymic disorder. For children and adolescents, the duration must be at least one year, not two.

Besides feeling sad, a person with dysthymia has at least two other symptoms, like too much or too little sleep, changes in appetite, fatigue, low self-esteem, trouble concentrating, or feelings of hopelessness.

What could cause dysthymia? Psychologists aren't really sure, but there are three major theories: biology, genetics, and psychosocial. People with dysthymia may have differences in the levels of certain chemicals in their brain, which is the biological model of dysthymia.

Genetics also might play a part, since dysthymia seems to run in families.

Finally, psychosocial issues, like having a job you hate or childhood trauma, could lead to or exacerbate dysthymia.

In truth, it's probably caused by a mixture of biology, genetics, and environment. And the most successful treatment plans usually treat it with a combination of antidepressant medication to deal with the biological issues and therapy to approach the psychosocial issues.


Betsy isn't like Archie. Sometimes, she seems like she might have dysthymia, but other times she's on top of the world and feels great. She's energized and feels really optimistic about things. She doesn't need much sleep at all, but doesn't feel tired.

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