What is Dysthymia (Persistent Depressive Disorder)?


If I told you to describe a depressed person, what would you envision? Most likely the description would include someone who cries often and laughs very little, can’t get out of bed, calls out of work, isolates from friends and family, and oversleeps.

This is what major depression can look like, or at least that’s what we are told by commercials, TV shows, movies, and other forms of media. We rarely, if ever, are exposed to the concept of a higher functioning form of depression called dysthymia, and this is a problem. The lack of awareness of this condition prevents us from being able to identify or label it and reach out for support.

Symptoms of Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia, is characterized by chronic low-level depression that is not as severe, but may be longer lasting than, major depressive disorder. A formal diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder requires having experienced issues with at least two of the following:

  • Sleep problems
  • Change in appetite
  • Low self-esteem
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless

In addition, the individual would experience a depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not for at least two years.

Why Dysthymia is Considered Severe

Those with dysthymia usually appear to have no signs of depression to 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 on Friday has lost its appeal. This form of depression isn’t as well known or talked about as major depression and many people experience it without ever seeking professional help. Often times, people struggling with this condition may think it isn’t severe enough to warrant counseling, but it is important to remember that there is never an issue that is “not severe enough” for counseling. Dysthymia is considered severe because it is chronic, and if left untreated, individuals go through their days without truly living a happy, fulfilling life.

Treatment for Dysthymia

Sometimes we think if we have enough willpower and effort, we can overcome obstacles such as dysthymia, but doing it alone usually is not enough. There is no single cause of this condition, but it is believed to be a combination of biological and environmental factors, both of which a clinician and, if you chose, a psychiatrist can help you navigate. Counseling will help make sense of your experiences and give you the tools you need to work toward living the happier and more fulfilling life that you deserve.

If you think you might be struggling with persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia), The Light Program has counselors who can help you treat this condition and live a more fulfilling life. Explore our various outpatient programs, or contact our admissions department to see how you can get started with counseling.