What are the Symptoms of Dysthymia?

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  • Written By: Michael Smathers
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2016
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Dysthymia is a form of chronic mild depression, but can progress to major depression if left untreated. Symptoms of dysthymia are not as severe as those of major depression, but they tend to last longer and can negatively affect a person's life. If the symptoms are recognized and addressed promptly, people suffering from dysthymia can recover with effective treatment.

In most healthy people, mood tends to fluctuate over time from positive to negative and back again, but has a steady, average baseline. Those suffering from dysthymia, on the other hand, tend to have a lower baseline mood than average. In fact, the word "dysthymia" means "ill mood" or "melancholy." Symptoms of the condition tend to center around a loss of interest or ability in different areas of life.

One of the primary physical symptoms of dysthymia involves appetite, manifesting as either a loss of appetite or a tendency to overeat. Foods with a high sugar content provide the brain with an increase in serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and well-being. Without adequate amounts of this neurotransmitter, depression can occur. Overeating as a result of dysthymia can lead to feelings of shame and negativity, further driving the patient into depression. Eating regular, nutrient-dense meals and snacks can combat this tendency.


A lack of ability to concentrate or focus on tasks, constant feelings of lethargy and a lack of motivation are other symptoms of dysthymia. Lethargy and poor motivation can result from the self-defeating attitudes associated with dysthymia. The person suffering may be unwilling to attempt new projects or take risks because he or she feels that attempts are predestined to failure.

Those with dysthymia may come to lack interest in hobbies, health and social life. Over time, self-esteem drops because the person feels as though he or she has accomplished nothing worthwhile. Engaging in self-berating thoughts may further the cycle.

The symptoms of dysthymia alone do not indicate the condition. For an official diagnosis, a constant state of mild depression must have persisted over a majority of the time for at least two years in adults and for at least one year in children under the age of eighteen. Diagnosis also requires that no major depressive episodes have taken place during the two-year testing period. The prevailing sign is a near-constant "low" feeling; coupled with other symptoms, this often indicates that the person suffers from the condition. Treatment typically includes a combination of prescription antidepressants as well as psychotherapy.


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Post 3

@croydon - I hope that they aren't just putting you on medication without any other treatment. I know it's comforting to think of depression as just being about chemicals in the brain and that might even be true for a lot of people, but in the long term, it's much better for patients to learn how to manage themselves with as little medication as possible.

It really angers me that people become desperate enough to go to the doctor with their depression and are given pills without any option for counseling. I'm not saying that you shouldn't take medication, but that everyone should have to have counseling as well.

Post 2

@browncoat - I remember when they put me on prozac I worried that I would end up feeling like a zombie. But, if anything, I felt like I was more able to be emotional once I was taking it.

Apparently that's one of the symptoms of dysthymia or chronic depression. You get to the point where you feel low all the time and don't realize that that isn't normal.

Post 1

This condition is so easy to dismiss because it starts to feel like your normal state of mind. I suffered from this for a long time, basically a decade, before I ended up in a very stressful situation and it turned into full-blown depression. It was only then that I decided to go to a doctor and get some help.

I was put on some medication and the difference has been so profound I feel like a different person. I still have some anxiety symptoms, but aside from that I am much happier.

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