Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia, is a chronic and long-lasting form of low-grade depression. Symptoms are generally not as severe as other disorders within the depression spectrum, such as major depressive disorder, but can fluctuate and usually last for two years or more. Those who suffer from this disorder will experience general sadness and ill-humor, and have a higher chance of developing a full-blown and more severe type of depression.
Symptoms of Dysthymic Disorder
Symptoms of dysthymic disorder resemble those of other conditions within the depression spectrum, but are frequently milder and do not necessarily interfere with normal functioning within everyday life. Additionally, severe symptoms such as mania and suicidal thoughts are excluded. Sufferers with these symptoms may be diagnosed with other conditions. What characterizes this disorder over others is the generality of the ill feelings, associated with the length of time a person has experienced them. The following are signs to look for when considering this diagnosis:
- Problems with appetite, such as overeating or lack of interest in food
- Lack of energy or chronic fatigue
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty with focus or while making decisions
- Problems sleeping
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of hopelessness or chronic despair
Causes of Dysthymic Disorder
As is the case with most mental disorders, the cause of dysthymic disorder is largely unknown. Research shows that this disorder may run in families, either caused by a genetic predisposition, or a character type that may be learned. Poor dietary habits or daily life stresses may add to the susceptibility of symptoms. A chemical imbalance in the brain may also be to blame.
Diagnosing Dysthymic Disorder
Because of the lack of severity of dysthymic disorder, most people who experience symptoms believe that these feelings may be a part of their personality, and therefore refrain from seeking psychological help. A trained medical physician, psychiatrist or psychologist will be able to conduct an evaluation by asking questions regarding family medical history, observing behavior and ruling out other possible mental illness. If symptoms fall within the range that qualifies for dysthymic disorder, a diagnosis will likely be made. Criteria for this usually includes the experience of symptoms nearly every day, for at least two years, with at least two of the symptoms listed above. The patient will feel depressed or appear depressed to family and friends a majority of the time.
Treatment Options for Dysthymic Disorder
Treatment options for dysthymic disorder and other mental illnesses can vary greatly, depending upon the individual and his or her preference. Research and some trial and error may be necessary to discover the best form of treatment for alleviating symptoms of this illness. Following is a brief list of available options for treatment:
- Medication – traditional medication may be necessary to relieve feelings of melancholy and hopelessness caused by a brain chemical imbalance. Frequently, anti-depressants are prescribed. A combination of these medications with anti-anxiety pills or mood stabilizers may also provide some benefit to the patient.
- Counseling – forms of counseling such as psychotherapy or participation in support groups will give the patient the opportunity to share feelings, search for solutions and learn awareness and coping skills. Often, seeking suggestions for relief from others can benefit the patient in many ways, both physically and emotionally.
- Support from family and friends – people who suffer from dysthymia can benefit from emotional support given by friends and family. Research shows that when the patient is surrounded by love, care and reminders of his or her importance, symptoms may be relieved.
- Dietary and lifestyle changes – daily exercise can promote wellness by returning the body to health and fitness, therefore leading to a more balanced existence. Certain types of food can also cause mood swings and brain dysfunction. Avoiding these foods and changing eating habits to include more vitamins and necessary minerals can benefit significantly.
- Alternative therapies – activities involving meditation, relaxation, yoga or other alternative remedies may bring about whole-body healing, which can substantially alleviate symptoms of depression.