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

Updated October 3, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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). Others may experience depression primarily in colder, less sunny months; these are known as seasonal affective disorders.

What Is Dysthymic Disorder? 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!

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?

Are You Living With Dysthymic Disorder?

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) Symptoms

Dysthymic disorder can be hard to diagnose because 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 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
  • Substance abuse to cope

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. It’s important to note that some individuals dealing with the persistent depressive disorder may also be dealing with other mental illnesses, including chronic major depressive disorder. However, unlike major depressive disorder, those who have dysthymic disorder may still be able to feel pleasure and may experience periods of respite from their symptoms.

With that in mind, the next question that you may ask yourself is, how can we treat and better manage the above 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 antidepressant medications. Additionally, because persistent depressive disorder is known to have long-lasting symptoms, longer more acute treatments 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 or prevent 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. Try to avoid any type of substance abuse, such as drinking too much alcohol, as this negatively affects your body as well as brain chemical balance and could lead to a form of drug addiction.
  • 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 a 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, you must know your 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 the stress of a chronic nature. Once you begin looking for ways to conquer your persistent depressive disorder, you must 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 daily, 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 a 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

Are You Living With 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 see the same high-quality therapists that you would expect to find in a traditional office setting. If you need support to help you manage and treat the persistent depressive disorder, you may want to consider turning to an online counseling resource such as BetterHelp.

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), better cope with stressful life events, 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 help allow you to alleviate your symptoms.

BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that allows individuals to connect with certified therapists online. Whether you are currently unable to see 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; in fact, multiple studies utilizing a combination of meta-analysis and systematic review processes have found online therapy to be overall just as effective (sometimes more effective!) than traditional therapy for treating a range of depression and anxiety disorders. 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.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What is the meaning of dysthymic disorder?
What is a dysthymic disorder called now?
Is dysthymia a serious mental illness?
What if people have a dysthymic disorder?
Is dysthymia a form of bipolar?
What therapy is best for dysthymia?
Is dysthymia considered a disability?
How does dysthymia differ from major depression?
Does dysthymia have manic episodes?
Can people with dysthymia ever be happy?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

What Is Dysthymic Disorder In Psychology?

In clinical psychology, dysthymic disorder is also known as persistent depressive disorder, and it is characterized by being a continuous and chronic form of depression. People with the dysthymic disorder tend to experience a prolonged loss of interest, hopelessness, lack of energy, and low self-esteem. Dysthymic disorder can be associated with multiple comorbid conditions, including anxiety, substance use disorders, and others.

It is typically not as severe as major depression; however, it can still impact your daily life by making it difficult for you to find joy even on happy occasions, and people may refer to you as moody or pessimistic.

These symptoms can make numerous aspects of daily life difficult such as decision making, poor appetite or overeating, and being productive, as well as potentially increasing your risk of substance abuse and could lead to potential drug addiction.

As a chronic condition, you may experience symptoms for a long time before you receive a diagnosis. The symptoms can begin at a young age, and children and adolescents are likely to exhibit a depressed mood and irritability.

What Does Dysthymic Mood Mean?

A dysthymic mood is a long-lasting period of the disorder that typically lasts for at least two years, but sometimes longer. If the persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) continues undiagnosed and untreated for a long period, it can easily begin to impact your life and relationships.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with dysthymia may have trouble recognizing that they have a depressive disorder because they become so used to their symptoms.

In many cases, family members may be the first to notice symptoms of persistent depressive disorder, especially in cases of children and adolescents. It is important to consult your primary care physician or therapist for help managing your symptoms.

Is Dysthymia A Serious Mental Illness?

Some people with dysthymia can also have periods of major depression as well. In these cases, the condition is called double depression.

It has been newly added to the manual of mental health (DSM V), a statistical manual of mental disorders, by the American Psychiatric Association as a combination of major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder. It can be a serious mental illness if left untreated.

While some patients may only have mild to moderate symptoms of depression when they are persistent and last day in and day out, they can begin to affect your quality of life. In more severe cases, individuals may try to cope with drug abuse or alcohol abuse and may develop substance use disorders. In other cases, a person with dysthymia may experience major depression and can have difficulty functioning.

If your friends and family members tell you that you have been acting differently and are concerned for your mental health, it is important to reach out to a doctor or therapist. Many treatment options can help you manage your symptoms including talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication.

Is Dysthymic Disorder Considered A Disability?

In severe cases, dysthymic disorder is considered a disability by the National Institute of Health, just like major depression. When combined with major depression, it can severely limit your ability to function in day-to-day life.

What Are The 5 Mood Disorders?

The most common types of mood disorders according to the American Psychiatric Association and the National Institute of Health are:

  • Major depression
  • Dysthymia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance-induced mood disorder
  • Health condition-related mood disorder

As you can see, these cover a wide range of mental disorders that can impact your mental health.

What Is The Best Medication For Dysthymia?

Diagnostic and statistical manual studies have shown that in the majority of dysthymia cases selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective at managing symptoms. These medications are also widely used to help people with anxiety disorders.

Can Dysthymia Be Cured?

Recovery is possible with treatment and therapy. Symptoms can be managed and many times the condition will get better. However, it is possible to experience dysthymia later in life even if you have recovered previously.

If you feel that you may have symptoms of dysthymia or any other anxiety disorders or personality disorders, speak to your doctor or therapist. There are many treatment options to help you feel better.

How Do You Deal With Dysthymia?

The risk factors for dysthymia are severe stress, major life changes, and a history of other health disorders. Your recovery needs to seek treatment as soon as you begin having symptoms, regardless of their severity.

The sooner you are diagnosed, the better. Treatment options include talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medications such as SSRIs, and more.

Is Dysthymia A Form Of Bipolar?

Not by itself. However, if you alternate between periods of dysthymic moods or hypomanic moods, you may have a form of bipolar disorder known as a cyclothymic disorder. 

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