Dysthymia, or dysthymic disorder, is also known as chronic depression. Dysthymia has less severe symptoms than major depression, but has the potential to last for much longer. Untreated dysthymia can last for two or more years.
Because dysthymic disorder symptoms are less severe than those caused by a major disorder, dysthymia is sometimes referred to as mild depression. This is a misnomer, as there is nothing mild about the effects of this common mental illness.
Dysthymia and Major Depressive Disorder: Two Types of Depression
Dysthymic disorder isn’t as well known as major depression, but it’s very common. The national Institute of Mental Health estimates 10.9 adult Americans live with chronic depression. As many as six percent of Americans experience at least one episode of dysthymic disorder at some point in their lives.
As noted above, dysthymia symptoms are usually less severe than major depression. While a person with major depression may experience crippling feelings of worthlessness, someone with dysthymic symptoms might suffer from low self-esteem. Other symptoms are common to both types of depression, including persistent sadness, concentration problems, lack of energy and sleep disturbances.
In general, people suffering from dysthymia are able to function from day to day, an ability often lost with major depression. In some cases, however, chronic depression disorder is just as crippling a mental illness as major depression.
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Over fifty percent of people suffering from dysthymia will have their symptoms develop into major depression at some point. The presence of both dysthymia and major depression is known as double depression. As many as fifty percent of people diagnosed with major depression suffer from double depression.
Risk Factors for Dysthymia
The risk factors for dysthymic disorder are similar to those for major depression, and include family histories of depression, dysthymia or other mental illness. Stress and chemical imbalances in the brain have also been linked to chronic depression.
As with depression, women are diagnosed with dysthymia more than men, although chronic depression appears to have an earlier onset date than major depressive disorder.
Dysthymic disorder, like depression, is often seen with other conditions. It’s not unusual for chronic depression to present with another mental illness such as an anxiety disorder, or with a serious physical condition. Substance abuse is often accompanied by either major or chronic depression.
Chronic Depression Treatment
Chronic depression treatment used the same medication and psychotherapy as major depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are usually the first antidepressant choice for dysthymic disorder, although older medications such as tricyclic antidepressants work better for some people.
Major depression treatment usually ends after a set period of time. Chronic depression treatment may require long use of therapy and depression medication to prevent symptom relapse. Treatment for dysthymia is, generally, quite successful.