Understanding Dysthymia: A Chronic, Low-Grade Depression

Understanding Dysthymia: A Chronic, Low-Grade Depression

You’ve brushed aside the chronic low mood, exhaustion and lack of motivation for months, maybe even years. Underestimating the long-term impacts of dysthymia however, could have serious effects on your overall success and your health.

Do you feel like you’re never really happy? For people living with dysthymia, a chronic, low-grade form of depression, life often feels flat. The joys and excitement that seem to brighten other people’s lives are muted or missing, and while things might not be terrible, they are definitely not great. 

People living with dysthymia often ascribe their low mood to certain events or personal relationships without considering the possibility that they may be affected by a mental health condition. Dysthymia is not only a serious condition, but a treatable one, and with the right resources people can greatly improve their overall mood and outlook on life. 

What is Dysthymia and What Causes It?

Dysthymia, also knows as persistent depressive disorder, is a less severe form of chronic depression that is significant enough to negatively impact people’s daily lives, relationships and self-esteem. Dysthymia is characterised by its constancy; while people with major depressive disorder will experience periods of severe, acute depression, this is generally followed by periods of relief from these symptoms. Dysthymia, on the other hand, is a pervasive feeling of low mood and exhaustion that can extend for months or years. While people with dysthymia can have “good days”, these occur less frequently than those where they feel depressed.

People with dysthymia are likely to have at least one major depressive episode in their lives that overlaps with their dysthymia, further exacerbating their symptoms. Common symptoms of dysthymia include:

  • A feeling of depression nearly every day that lasts for most of the day
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep troubles
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions or focusing

Like many mental health disorders, the exact cause of dysthymia isn’t known. However, both biological and situational factors can increase the risk for developing this disorder. These factors include: 

  • Substance misuse
  • Family history of a depressive disorder
  • Chronic physical illness, such as diabetes or chronic pain
  • History of other mental health conditions

For people living with dysthymia, the most important breakthrough is to realise that a persistent low mood isn’t normal, and that resources are available to help ease symptoms and discover joy in life.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Dysthymia?

If dysthymia is left untreated, it can cause significant effects to both physical and mental health that can also impact professional and personal opportunities. Recognising these effects and their links to dysthymia is important in creating awareness of this condition and spurring motivation to seek treatment.

Poor Self-Esteem

The persistent low mood caused by dysthymia steadily erodes self-confidence, generally causing people living with this condition to suffer from low self-esteem. This can lead to a loss of opportunity in nearly all arenas of life. People with dysthymia often don’t feel the excitement around positive new possibilities that motivates others to take chances or push themselves to do better, and instead are consumed by doubts, exhaustion, and feelings of being overwhelmed. While difficult to measure, dysthymia has the potential to drastically limit the personal growth and happiness of those it affects.

Self-Medication

Just as substance misuse can be a risk factor for developing dysthymia, living with dysthymia puts you at risk for substance misuse. This is linked to the drive to self-medicate in order to alleviate the discomfort brought on by the symptoms of this disorder. Unfortunately, while the short-term effects of self-medication may be temporarily successful in numbing feelings of depression, the long-term impacts of substance misuse can actually further entrench dysthymia.

Threats to Physical Health

Though dysthymia is considered to be a milder form of depression compared to major depressive disorder, its chronic nature and the tendency of people living with it to have overlapping episodes of acute depression both contribute to a higher risk for suicidal ideation and self-harm. Additionally, lack of motivation around self-care or attention to healthy habits can lead to diminished physical health, and exacerbation of chronic conditions.  

How is Dysthymia Treated?

Dysthymia is a serious, chronic mental health disorder that requires professional treatment in order to improve the prognosis for those living with it, and create space for a higher quality of life. Common treatment methods for dysthymia include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk-based psychotherapy used to treat different forms of depression, including dysthymia. CBT works by identifying and altering negative patterns of thought in order to positively change behaviour and mood. People undergoing CBT also work with their therapist to develop new ways to cope with challenges and manage stress.

Dialectical behaviour therapy

Dialectical behaviour therapy, or DBT, is another form of talk-based psychotherapy used for dysthymia. DBT is often a blend of individual and group sessions, with a therapist helping to guide discussions and discover the root causes behind strong feelings. This type of psychotherapy focuses on providing the skills needed to manage intense emotions and to successfully navigate social relationships.

Medication

Most effective when used with other treatment methods like CBT or DBT, medication can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with dysthymia. Some types of antidepressants prescribed for dysthymia include serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

For those who have experienced difficulties in managing symptoms of depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be an effective alternative. This cutting-edge, FDA-approved technology is gentle and non-invasive, using magnetic waves to stimulate nerve cells in the brain linked to mood regulation and depression.

Healthy lifestyle changes

Wellness practices like exercise, mindfulness meditation, and yoga have been proven to have positive effects on boosting mood and relieving symptoms of depression via the natural stimulation of mood-related neurotransmitters. Integrating these practices into daily routines, as well as adhering to a healthy, balanced diet and practicing good sleep habits builds a strong foundation by which to counter the effects of dysthymia.

Treating Dysthymia at The Dawn

Onsite TMS session for clients seeking treatment for depression

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab is a mental health retreat in Thailand designed to help people rediscover themselves, understand their disorders and heal from mental health and addiction issues. Based in stunning Northern Thailand and internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International (AACI), The Dawn offers holistic programming led by a team of globally-trained professionals. 

Dysthymia and Depression Rehab Thailand

Stress, worry and lack of downtime are known triggers of most mental health conditions. Located on the outskirts of the northern city of Chiang Mai, The Dawn’s tranquil riverfront location immediately transports you into an oasis of calm completely removing you from all your stressors.

The Dawn’s depression programme uses a mix of the latest psychotherapeutic techniques, technology and scientifically-proven wellness practices to ensure holistic healing and instill healthy coping skills.  

In a day, clients will attend both group and individual therapy, participate in meditation and yoga sessions, and receive a Thai massage or personal fitness training. The Dawn is the only residential centre in Asia to offer onsite TMS sessions, which is also an option for clients seeking treatment for depression.

If you’re looking to change your life for the better, call The Dawn today and learn more about how we can help you manage your dysthymia and discover new opportunities.

About the Author

John A. Smith is a Senior Psychotherapist at The Dawn and an internationally accredited Addiction Treatment Professional (ISSUP), Certified Life and NLP Coach. He is highly experienced in working with young adults and utilises a range of evidence-based therapies, including SMART Recovery, to help his clients achieve their goals.