Dysthymia & Depression

Patient Expert

For much of my childhood and young adulthood, I suffered from depression. Although I did have some periods of major depression, the bulk of the time my depression was a type called dysthymia.

Dysthymia is a low-grade form of depression that lasts at least two years, with symptom free periods lasting no longer than two months. Other symptoms, which are similar to those of major depression, can include:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Let me add some less "technical" symptoms, from my own experience:

  • Negativity
  • Pessimism
  • Indecisiveness
  • A lack of "direction"

Although dysthymia is not as disabling and the symptoms are not as severe as, major depression, it can still destroy a life, by making the person a shadow of what they could be. The best way I can think of to compare major depression with dysthymia is that major depression is like a thunderstorm in your brain or psyche. Devastating, but of a short duration. Dysthymia is like a steady rain under a perpetually gray sky. While the thunderstorm may be more devastating, imagine living with a gray, rainy day in your brain all day, every day.

Dysthymia can have a profound impact on work or school, as well as social life. I'll use my experience as an example. From the point at which my dysthymia started, about age seven, my grades were mediocre for the most part. I was awkward and shy, so I usually didn't have more than one or two friends. I had very little interest in any kinds of activities, be they academic, athletic or artistic. It wasn't simply a lack of ability. I was an excellent speller, but somehow never went anywhere with it, never entered any spelling bees or challenged myself.

I drifted through my childhood till my last year of high school. I did no research on colleges, visited two and applied to one. The last wasn't due to confidence that I would be accepted; it was pure apathy. In a rare burst of forethought, I had chosen my college because of its excellent library science school. Once at school, however, I took no steps to plan out my curriculum in library science, and eventually majored in English Literature since that was the discipline I had taken the most courses in.

Looking back, I wish that I had studied library science. Not only is it still interesting to me, but my career would have been quite different. When I graduated, I found that English Literature degrees were only in demand at publishing houses. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist, and for a good ten years, my career was in the category of administrative support. Not until my depression was diagnosed and treated did I do anything but drift through my career. Not only was I apathetic and negative before depression treatment, but I didn't really believe that I could be successful.

Dysthymia, because of its nature, can be hard to recognize. The onset of dysthymia can be hard to pinpoint. It's more subtle and insidious than major depression. If you have previously been free of depression, its gradual takeover of your thoughts and feelings may go almost unnoticed for a while, or dismissed as the blues. If you acquire the mood disorder early in life, as I did, it's very hard to separate the disorder from your personality. Many people who have dysthymia are not aware that their unhappiness is caused by a diagnosable disease.

Once dysthymia is diagnosed, it is usually treated with antidepressants or antidepressants and therapy. Therapy is an especially good idea if the individual has been suffering for a while.