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Dysthymia: Here’s how you can best deal with this persistent depressive disorder

Published on:18 September 2021, 09:00am IST
If you find yourself struggling with depressive symptoms every now and then, and in case it has persisted for years, it could be a sign that you have dysthymia.
Ambika Chawla
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side effects of bottling up emotions
Bottling your emotions is not going to benefit you. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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Dysthymia is a continuous long-term form of depression. The symptoms of the disorder usually come and go over a period that spans several years; remember that their intensity can change over time. The disorder disturbs the mood and thoughts of an individual, making it a mood disorder. Furthermore, the disorder affects the way a person functions, views the world, and feels about themselves. It is a chronic mental illness, and has the tendency to affect a person in all areas of his/her life. 

Symptoms of dysthymia

Symptoms of persistent depressive disorder can cause significant impairment and may include:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Sadness, emptiness or feeling down
  • Lack productivity
  • Low self-esteem
  • An overall feeling of inadequacy
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Irritability or excessive anger
  • Decreased activity, effectiveness and productivity
  • Avoidance of social activities
  • Guilt feelings and worriness
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Sleep problems

Because of the chronic nature of the illness, the symptoms may last for years and significantly interfere with relationships, occupation, social and daily activities. The longevity of the symptoms makes it important for a person to go for treatment.  

Causes of dysthymia

No known cause has been found as yet in scientific research, but there is a presence of collective reasons behind the development of the illness in a person. 

Some of the causes are discussed below: 

1. Chemical imbalance in the brain, which means the neurotransmitters and hormones whose function lies in balancing emotions and feelings are secreted in an abnormal range. 

dysthymia
Depression may lead to emotional blunting. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Family history of the condition is essential too. The presence of a psychiatric illness in the family leaves the next generation at a higher risk of developing a psychological illness. 

3. History of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder, or having a severe psychological illness impacts the psyche of a person. This exhausts the coping skills of an individual at a faster pace. In such a case, presence of a co-morbid condition is quite common. 

4. Stressful or traumatic life events, such as the loss of a loved one or financial problems – or any other traumatic event has the capacity to hit a person deeply on an emotional level. This disturbs the balance of stress and coping. Excessive stress leads to secretion of unwanted hormones in the body. 

5. Chronic physical illness, such as heart disease or diabetes or cancer – a major medical illness is likely to bring high levels of stress in an individual. Constant stress is unhealthy for any individual. 

6. Physical brain trauma, such as a concussion – this may bring changes in the anatomy of a normal brain and may release excessive hormones proven harmful for the emotional balance of the individual. 

Ways to deal with dysthymia

Dysthymia, being a chronic form of psychological illness, with severe collection of symptoms, requires a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy) and medication to be effective. 

dysthymia
Dysthymia is a serious disorder. It is not “minor” depression. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Psychotherapy

This is a beneficial treatment option to understand the cognitive aspect of the disorder. It is found to be helpful in multiple ways:

  • Helps in the expression of thoughts and feelings in a healthy way
  • Management and coping of emotions
  • Improved adjustment to a life challenge or crisis
  • Identification of thought and behavioural patterns
  • Replace negative beliefs with positive ones
  • Improved satisfaction and quality of life 
Lifestyle changes

Making certain lifestyle adjustments can complement medical treatments and help ease symptoms. These remedies include:

  • Exercising 
  • Eating a balanced diet 
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Practicing yoga, or meditation
  • Writing a journal
  • Breaking large tasks into small ones
  • Try to socialise and confide in someone
  • Include interesting activities for yourself in the day
  • Be patient with yourself 
dysthymia
Take good care of yourself by following these tips. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Strategies to help bring the symptoms under control:

Identify triggers and use your coping mechanism to combat stress, leading to increased resilience and boost self-esteem:

  • Reach out to family and friends, especially in times of crisis, to help you get through tough times
  • Do not delay the action of treatment to help prevent further worsening of symptoms
  • Long-term treatment, when advisable, must be considered to prevent relapse phase of the illness
The bottomline

Dysthymia is not the same as being unhappy or in a “blue” mood, neither is it a sign of weakness. People with such severe conditions can’t simply “snap out of it” and get better. It’s always a good idea to seek professional support, and not wait until you hit rock bottom. Psychological and psychiatric intervention can really help people overcome it. Waiting for help may worsen the condition, so it is better to seek help, as soon as possible. All it takes is the willingness and right kind of support to move towards a better life.  

Ambika Chawla Ambika Chawla

Ambika Chawla, Clinical psychologist, Kaleidoscope. A unit of Dr Bakshi's Healthcare