A black and white image of a man looking out a window with a pensive expression.

What is dysthymia?

Dysthymia, also called persistent depressive disorder, is a type of continuous and chronic depression. It consists of similar but less intense characteristics than those of major depression. When the patient feels a constant and lasting feeling of discouragement over time, it can affect social relationships and daily chores.


Dysthymia can impair the quality of life of patients and they might not be able to control symptoms, which make the conditions more difficult to manage. Furthermore, the condition is chronic and can last from months to years. For these reasons, it’s important to receive the right treatment that allows you to control your emotional state sooner rather than later.

Symptoms of dysthymia

People with dysthymia usually lose interest in the activities of their daily life. They often feel hopeless, unproductive, and have low self-esteem.

Patients can be unable to feel optimistic even in moments of happiness, which makes people consider them as pessimistic, negative and as someone who complains all the time. The most common symptoms are:

  • Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of energy or excessive tiredness
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Insomnia or wanting to sleep all the time
  • Decreased efficiency, productivity and activity
  • Isolation or avoidance of social activities
  • Guilt and excessive concern about past events
  • Easily irritated

In children, the condition can manifest itself as mostly anger and frustration.

Medical tests to diagnose dysthymia

The basic test that will allow diagnosing a dysthymia case is a psychological evaluation.

What are the causes of dysthymia?

The causes of dysthymia can be diverse, although no single or exact cause is known/

  • Chemical processes in the brain: neurotransmitters are natural substances in the brain that potentially play a role in dysthymia. According to some studies, changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters, and how they interact with the neurocircuits that are responsible for maintaining emotional stability, may play an essential role in dysthymia and how to treat it.
  • Genes: dysthymia seems to be more common in patients whose family members also suffer from it
  • Life events: traumatic events (e.g. loss of loved ones, money problems and high levels of stress) may cause dysthymia

It is estimated that more than 75% of those affected by dysthymia suffer from another chronic condition.

Can it be prevented?

There is no way to 100% ensure that dysthymia can be prevented. The disorder usually develops in childhood or adolescence, so identifying children who may suffer from it is key.

Treatments for dysthymia

The underlying causes that could be causing dysthymia need to be determined. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychotherapy have been shown to be effective. The management of the condition can be supported with medication, which can only be prescribed by a medically trained specialist.

Which specialist treats dysthymia?

Psychologists and psychiatrists can treat dysthymia. They will establish the best treatment and personalise it to each individual.

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