What Is Dysthymic Disorder (And How Do I Manage It)?

Updated July 10, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

When we see depression in the media, it is often presented in the form of someone who struggles to get up and follow through with basic tasks, such as eating and showering. While depression can certainly take the form of a debilitating mental health disorder, it doesn’t always manifest as such. Instead, some people may deal with a type of depression that allows them to function on a day-to-day basis but is still accompanied by depressive feelings. This form of depression is known as dysthymic disorder (also persistent depressive disorder, dysthymia).

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Like most forms of depression, treatment, and management of dysthymic disorder are certainly possible. To help you better understand this mental disorder, let’s take a closer look at what dysthymic disorder is and how you can begin working towards a brighter future!

What Is Dysthymic Disorder?

Dysthymic disorder, also known as dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder, is a long-term mood disorder that lasts approximately two years or longer and features low-grade depressive symptoms, which will sometimes alternate with periods of normal mood (no more than two months. Although symptoms present in dysthymic disorder may not be as noticeable or as strong as symptoms associated with major depressive disorder, they can still impact an individual’s ability to lead a happy, healthy lifestyle. But what may this look like if you believe that you have it?

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) Symptoms

Dysthymic disorder can be hard to diagnose due to the fact that the individual dealing with it may not immediately notice the symptoms, or may simply believe that they are part of their personality. However, persistent depressive disorder and major depressive disorder share many symptoms.

Some of the symptoms you may see in persistent depressive disorder include:

  • Depressed mood, which is often experienced most days during the course of your depressive episode
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Eating too little or eating too much
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Physical aches and pains
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It’s important to note that some individuals dealing with persistent depressive disorder may also be dealing with other mental illnesses, including major depressive disorder. However, unlike major depressive disorder, those who have the dysthymic disorder may still be able to feel pleasure and may experience periods of respite from their symptoms.

Regardless of whether you are dealing with a period of major depression or other depressive disorders as your dysthymic disorder runs its course, are only experiencing the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder while still functioning in your day-to-day life, or are dealing with dysthymic disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder, reaching out for help is the most important next step.

With that in mind, the next question that you may ask yourself is, how can we treat and better manage the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)?

Treatment and Management of Dysthymic Disorder

As it is with most depressive disorders, the treatment of persistent depressive disorder will often consist of talk therapy and, depending upon the severity of your dysthymic disorder, possibly medication. Additionally, because the persistent depressive disorder is known to have long-lasting symptoms, longer treatment may be required to help you better manage your symptoms both now and down the road.

However, traditional treatment options are not the only way to help you cope with persistent depressive disorder. There are also plenty of ways that you can better manage your dysthymic disorder at home to supplement your treatment and therapy. Read below for some tips.

How to Manage Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Managing depressive disorders is relatively similar across the board, whether you are managing persistent depressive disorder or you are attempting to tackle depressive disorders with stronger symptoms. This means that if you have struggled with depression in the past, many of the things that you may have done to improve your mood may work for persistent depressive disorder as well. These coping mechanisms and management methods include:

  • Diet and Exercise: Making sure that you are exercising regularly and eating a more balanced diet can be a major form of support while you are battling the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder. Exercise will help to produce endorphins (and provide you with additional benefits, such as the psychological benefit that comes from being outside and vitamin D from the sun) while eating a balanced diet will provide you with valuable nutrients you need to feel better. If you can only squeeze a couple of days of exercise in at first, don’t worry. Even a walk outside can help decrease depressive symptoms.
  • Socializing and Fun: Connect with those around you and take time to engage in activities that make you happy. Even if you don’t feel like going out with others or you don’t feel much joy when you think about doing things you used to love (which is to be expected when you are dealing with persistent depressive disorder), the act of simply getting back into the groove of your normal life can improve your mood and help you rediscover your joy. That said, it is important that you know your own limits. If you believe that going out or doing a certain activity would only make you feel worse, it is best to do it when you feel like you are better suited for it. Knowing when to push and when to rest is an essential part of recovery.
  • Relieving Lifestyle Stress: The more stress that you are experiencing, the more likely you are to deal with the negative consequences that come with chronic stress. Once you begin looking for ways to conquer your persistent depressive disorder, it is important that you consider which areas of your lifestyle are producing the most stress and how you can successfully reduce that stress. How? Some excellent suggestions are to cut down on non-essential, stress-producing activities, come up with realistic goals that you can reach without straining yourself, and put off any major decisions until your mood improves. Although stress can be healthy, too much stress is never a good thing for your mental health, especially when you are dealing with persistent depressive disorder.
  • Putting More Focus on the Positive Things in Life: This can often be one of the biggest obstacles for those with persistent depressive disorder. However, with the right support, beginning to notice the amazing things in your life can become easier over time. If you can on your own, try pointing out positive things or things that you are grateful for on a daily basis, no matter how small those things may be. This shift in mindset can help you feel a little bit better each day and make it easier for you to alleviate symptoms of persistent depressive disorder.
  • Build a Support System: Being surrounded by trustworthy, supportive individuals who will act as your safety net when you are struggling with your mental health is arguably one of the most important things to have when you are attempting to overcome the persistent depressive disorder. This support system can consist of close friends and family members who are looking to help you as you begin helping yourself. However, your support system should also feature your therapist, which brings us to our next point.

How to Find Help for Dysthymic Disorder

In this day and age, especially as COVID-19 continues to limit how much social interaction we can have, you may not know where to turn to receive the help you need. Fortunately, there are online resources that will allow you to access the same high-quality therapists that you would expect to find in a traditional office setting. If you are in need of support to help you manage and treat persistent depressive disorder, you may want to consider turning to an online counseling resource such as BetterHelp.

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BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that allows individuals to connect with certified therapists online. Whether you are currently unable to access local counselors, or you find it easier to speak with someone on a device instead of going to a physical location to meet face-to-face, BetterHelp is an effective alternative to traditional face-to-face counseling options. All you have to do to get started is click on the link above and fill out a short questionnaire to get connected with a licensed counselor.

No matter what you call it (dysthymic disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and dysthymia), long-term, low-grade depression can be just as difficult to deal with as other forms of depression. That said, just like other forms of depression, it is most certainly a form of depression that can be treated and managed over time. If you are looking to conquer your persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) and lead a happier, healthier life, use the guide above to learn more about what dysthymic disorder is, how you can begin seeking out treatment, and what type of management techniques may be helpful in allowing you to alleviate your symptoms.


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