Dysthymia Symptoms, Causes and Medical Treatment

The term Dysthymia comes from Ancient Greek and means the bad state of mind. It was first used to define a mood disorder, which has similar effects as that of depression but less severe and long-lasting. Dysthymia is chronic in nature, which means its effects persist for a prolonged period. This condition used to be considered simply ‘depressive personality’ until Robert Spitzer identified it as a mood disorder. This term was later replaced by the broader term ‘Persistent Depressive Disorder’. It includes both the chronic major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder.

What are the symptoms of Dysthymia?

Dysthymia may begin affecting a person in his adolescence, teen years or young adulthood. Due to the chronic nature of Dysthymia, the symptoms persist for a big part of the individual’s life before it is diagnosed. Most of the times, even the diagnosis is difficult as the individual accepts these symptoms as a part of his personality. Thus, they may never mention them to anyone and hide them in social situations. Typically, Dysthymia is characterized by a long period of the depressed state of mind along with at least two of the following symptoms:

Insomnia or Hypersomnia

Lack of focus and inability to make decisions

Social isolation

Decreased or increased appetite

Low effectiveness and productivity

Low self-esteem

Fatigue and lack of energy

Sadness and hopelessness

Reluctance to carry out daily activities

What are the causes of Dysthymia?

Studies carried out over Dysthymia have pointed out multiple causes for the disorder. These causes include heredity, co-occurrence with other illnesses, stress, and social isolation and lack of social support.

Heredity: – Results from multiple studies showed that the families of most of the candidates suffering from the early-onset form of Dysthymia had higher rates of depression.

Co-occurrence: – More than 75% of the Dysthymia cases had observed to be in co-occurrence with other chronic physical illnesses and psychiatric disorders including drug addiction, alcoholism, anxiety disorders and Cyclothymia.

Stress: – Increased levels of stress due to life events may induce Dysthymia in certain individuals. High levels of stress in early childhood can result in Dysthymia.

Social isolation or lack of social support: – Children who, while growing up, do not receive any kind of social support lack the social skills. As a result, they face social isolation. This may trigger Dysthymia in certain cases.

What are the treatment options for Dysthymia?

Generally, Dysthymia is treated with a combination of Psychotherapy and Pharmacotherapy (Medications). Multiple factors regarding the severity of symptoms and individual’s personal preferences are considered while deciding the treatment approach.

Psychotherapy: – All forms of psychotherapy including individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy and self-help or support groups are helpful in the treatment of Dysthymia. Psychotherapy allows the individuals to develop better coping mechanisms, face the root causes of the symptoms, and boost self-esteem and self-confidence.

Pharmacotherapy: – Different individuals respond to different types of medications. Specific medicines are prescribed depending on the severity of the disorder and the side effects of the medications. Three types of medications used in the treatment of Dysthymia are:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)

The SSRIs and TCAs are equally effective in the treatment of Dysthymia. The use of MAOIs is avoided as the main treatment because of their less tolerable nature. Antidepressants such as Escitalopram, Citalopram, Sertraline, Fluoxetine, Paroxetine, and Fluvoxamine are frequently prescribed for the treatment of Dysthymia.