According to the American Psychiatric Association, dysthymia is characterized by a depressed mood most of the time for at least two years (one year for children and adolescents), together with at least two of these symptoms:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Low energy or fatigue
- Low self-esteem
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Poor concentration or indecisiveness.
Dysthymia depression is usually mild or moderate and, unlike major depression, may not be obvious to other people. A person with dysthymia symptoms may have trouble functioning at home, school or work. Diagnosing dysthymia can be challenging, since many dysthymia symptoms overlap with clinical depression and other mental health conditions.
Dysthymia (also called “dysthymic disorder”) is classified as “early onset” if symptoms begin before age 21, and “late onset” if symptoms begin at age 21 or later. Dysthymia usually starts in childhood or adolescence, and lasts for about four years. Children may not realize their constant low mood is abnormal, and may not complain of feeling depressed.
Cause of Dysthymia Depression
Although the exact cause of dysthymia depression is unknown, possible influences include:
- Imbalance in chemicals or hormones in the body
- Social circumstances, in particular isolation and lack of support
- Stress and trauma as either a child or an adult.
Treatment for Dysthymia
The main medical treatments for dysthymia are medication and psychotherapy. Although a variety of medications can ease dysthymia symptoms, the most common choice is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), such as fluoxetine (ProzacÂ©) or sertraline (ZoloftÂ¨). These medications tend to have the fewest side effects, although they aren’t as effective for dysthymia as with cases of clinical depression.
Dysthymia treatment may also include cognitive therapy to help a person identify and change self-defeating thought patterns. Other therapy options include:
- Behavioral therapy to improve social skills and learn ways to manage stress
- Interpersonal therapy to learn to manage relationships, resolve personal disputes, and deal with loss, separation and social roles
- Psychodynamic therapy to help resolve emotional conflicts.
If dysthymia symptoms donÃ•t respond to medication and therapy Ã‘ or if medications are causing intolerable side effects Ã‘ your doctor may prescribe an alternative treatment for dysthymia, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation.
In addition to working with a healthcare provider to find the right medical treatments, the following may help relieve dysthymia symptoms:
- Avoid abusing drugs and alcohol as they will worsen depression symptoms.
- Eat regular, healthy meals.
- Exercise regularly. (Studies consistently show that exercise can improve moods.)
- Participate in activities that make you feel good or give you a sense of accomplishment.
If you think you or your child might have dysthymia symptoms, consult a knowledgeable and supportive healthcare provider. Left untreated, dysthymia tends to worsen with time.
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