What is Dysthymic Disorder? - Symptoms, Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Dysthymic disorder is a mild and chronic form of depression, now technically known as persistent depressive disorder. Learn about dysthymic disorder, its symptoms, and treatment. Then test your knowledge with a quiz.

What Does Dysthymic Disorder Look Like?

Angie has been feeling strange. For almost every day in the past two years, she has been feeling sad. The activities that Angie once loved, such as golf and tennis, no longer give her pleasure. She is often tired throughout the day and struggles to get out of bed. Angie also does not sleep well at night. She has trouble concentrating at work and often makes mistakes. Concerned, Angie goes to see a psychologist who diagnoses her with dysthymic disorder.

The feelings of sadness that Angie is experiencing are interfering with her work.
Sad girl

Definition

You may have heard of major depression, a mood disorder with two primary characteristics: feelings of sadness, loss, or anger that won't go away and remain for a majority of the day, and a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities. Dysthymic disorder is a mood disorder that has the same features as major depression. Dysthymic disorder differs from major depression in that dysthymic disorder is less severe and lasts much longer. Dysthymic disorder symptoms are present for a minimum of two years, and often last way beyond that. Despite not being as severe as depression, dysthymic disorder can cause significant impairments in daily functioning, work, and relationships.

Symptoms

Let's look at Angie's symptoms and how they led to her being diagnosed with dysthymic disorder. Angie possessed the two main features of depression. That is, she was feeling sad and she lost interest in most activities. Both of these features must be present for a majority of the day on most days in order to be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder.

Angie also had sleeping problems, felt fatigued, and found it difficult to concentrate. These are all symptoms of dysthymic disorder. All of Angie's symptoms were present for at least two years, which is another requirement for a dysthymic disorder diagnosis. Other symptoms of dysthymic disorder include low self-esteem or self-image, irritability, eating too much or too little food, feeling hopeless, sleeping too much or too little, not participating in social activities, and feeling guilty or worried about things that happened in the past. Symptoms of dysthymic disorder can vary in intensity and duration; however, sufferers rarely see symptoms lift for more than eight weeks at a time.

Treatment

Now that Angie has a diagnosis of dysthymic disorder, she can begin exploring her options for treatment. Dysthymic disorder is treated primarily with medication and/or talk therapy. It is generally more effective to treat dysthymic disorder with both medication and talk therapy as opposed to using either alone. When only one of these two options is used alone, medication seems to be a better treatment for dysthymic disorder than talk therapy. Research also suggests that exercising on a regular basis can help treat dysthymic disorder.

Antidepressants, which are drugs that help decrease the symptoms associated with depression, have been proven to be an effective treatment for dysthymic disorder. The three kinds of antidepressants that may be prescribed to treat dysthymic disorder are:

  • Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Lexapro and Zoloft
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Cymbalta and Effexor
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as Elavil and Anafranil

Three types of talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy have been shown to be effective in treating dysthymic disorder.

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