As with many mental health conditions, we have a general concept of what they entail and what their symptoms most often look like. But, too easily we get boxed into this general idea and forget that other forms of mental health conditions exist that don’t show the symptoms we expected — or they don’t show outward symptoms at all.
For example, we might envision depression as being sad and isolated, not wanting to leave the house and sleeping a lot. But this is not a complete picture of depression. There are a number of people who struggle with depression that manifests in different ways than the well-known major depressive disorder.
Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) vs major depression
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a form of depression where you lose interest and cannot shake a persistent sense of sadness. It impacts your thoughts and behaviors and may lead you to withdraw from normal everyday life, including work, school and social activities. Often, major depression requires treatment to help those struggling develop healthy coping mechanisms. The symptoms are severe, but may not last for extended time periods.
On the other hand, persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) is an enduring, chronic diagnosis of depression that might not be as severe as MDD, but can be just as difficult to navigate. Dysthymia often causes you to feel persistently saddened or down, and makes it challenging to have a positive attitude even during peaceful or joyful times. The symptoms last a long time and can feel impossible to overcome.
While major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder have many similarities, the key difference lies in the symptoms – those battling persistent depressive disorder will experience fewer symptoms, but these can last for years; anyone combatting major depression will experience more intense symptoms, but they won’t necessarily last as long.
Symptoms of persistent depressive disorder
Whether they be mild or severe, the long-lasting symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are likely to include:
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Change in appetites, such as overeating or lack of interest in food
- Low self-esteem, feeling inadequate or incapable
- Low energy or interest
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling irritated or overly angry
- Withdrawing, not wanting to participate in social activities
- Feeling hopeless, sad or empty
These symptoms might last for months on end in a mild to severe fashion, where you feel like you can’t find a solution to fixing these feelings. However, the right treatment can help those struggling find relief, even if they have experienced untreated symptoms for a number of years.
Why dysthymia is considered severe?
Those with dysthymia usually appear to have no signs of depression in the outside world. They get up every day for work, go out with friends on Friday and may seem cheerful most of the time. But inwardly, they may feel a constant sense of sadness or dissatisfaction. They may dread going to work every day and going out with friends actually has no appeal.
This form of depression isn’t as well known or talked about and many people experience it without ever seeking professional help. Oftentimes, people struggling with this condition may think it isn’t severe enough to warrant counseling.
However, dysthymia is severe. Its symptoms might not be severe, but the nature of dysthymia as a persistent, potentially untreated mental health condition warrants a severe categorization.
Handling persistent depressive disorder
Sometimes we think willpower and effort is all we need to overcome conditions like dysthymia, but while the intentions are good, it usually is not enough.
There is no single cause of this condition, but it is often a combination of biological and environmental factors, both of which a mental health professional can help you navigate. Counseling gives you the tools to make sense of your experiences and guides you toward living the happier and more fulfilling life that you deserve.
Additionally, a clinician can help to prescribe the appropriate medication for dysthymia if cognitive behavioral therapy and other counseling strategies are not enough. Combined with the right therapy, medication can significantly help improve your mood and mental well-being.
Looking for treatment?
If you think you might be struggling with persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), The Light Program has counselors who can help. To learn more, or to get in touch with someone today, contact us via our website anytime or give us a call at 610-644-6464.