What Is Dysthymia Disorder? Risk Factors and Treatment
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What Is Dysthymia Disorder? Risk Factors and Treatment

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Motivational speakers and salespeople like to say you can choose how you feel. But maybe these folks have never struggled with mood disorders. Having a low mood all the time may sound like a mild symptom to someone with major depressive disorder (MDD). But being unable to find joy can make a big impact on a person’s life.

Dysthymia, or dysthymic disorder, refers to a chronic form of depression with milder symptoms but longer duration. It’s now referred to as persistent depressive disorder by the DSM-5.

People who experience mild depression symptoms for two years or more may have persistent depressive disorder (PDD). This article will cover what that is, who’s likely to develop it and how it’s treated.

What is persistent depressive disorder?

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is a mood disorder with symptoms that look a lot like mild depression. But people with PDD notice symptoms nearly every day for at least two years. Persistent depressive disorder is less common than MDD: the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that about 3% of U.S. adults experience PDD at some time in their lives. People who have PDD typically start noticing symptoms anywhere from childhood through young adulthood.

Even mild symptoms of depression can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and well-being. In fact, mild symptoms of depression can present unique challenges compared to severe symptoms. According to a national survey, 49.7% of people with persistent depressive disorder had serious impairment, 32.1% had moderate impairment and 18.2% had mild impairment.Individuals in each category may experience different levels of difficulty in activities of daily living, attending school, working and socializing.

Some symptoms people with PDD experience are:

  • Loss of interest in daily activities

  • Feeling tired or having low energy

  • Problems with sleep or appetite
  • Sadness, emptiness or feeling down

  • Hopelessness

  • Irritability
  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling incapable of doing usual activities

  • Trouble focusing 

  • Trouble with decision-making 

  • Worsening performance at school or work

  • Avoiding social activities

Persistent depressive disorder risk factors 

There’s no single, clear cause of PDDthat we know of. It does seem to have a strong genetic component, so you’re less likely to get it if you don’t have any family history of persistent depressive disorder. Some people may have PDDbecause of differences in their brain or traumatic life experiences. Other risk factors include chronic stress, biological factors and personality traits, such as low self-esteem.

Having another mental health condition can raise your likelihood of developing PDD. Negative personality traits like chronically low self-esteem, self-criticism, being too dependent on others and pessimism can also make you more likely to have it.

How can I tell if I have PDD?

It’s important to consult with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, for a comprehensive evaluation — even if your symptoms are mild or have only been present for a short period of time. In the short term, you may be diagnosed with and treated for MDD. Your doctor will monitor your symptoms to assess how you’re responding to treatment.

If your symptoms persist or worsen despite treatment for MDD, your mental health professional may reassess your diagnosis and consider other factors, such as the possibility of PDD.

To be diagnosed with PDD, you’ll have to experience a chronic low mood with symptoms every day for two years. We don’t recommend waiting that long to talk with a health care provider about it. It’s best to bring it up with your doctor as soon as possible so they’ll have a clear idea when you started noticing symptoms.

Treatment for PDD

Like depression, treatment for PDDtypically involves therapy and medication. Your doctor may want you to start with therapy and lifestyle adjustments like making sure you eat a balanced diet, exercise and get enough sleep at night. They may also prescribe you with an antidepressant. Your individual treatment plan will depend on your symptoms, the severity of your depression and your personal preferences.

Managing depression can be incredibly challenging, and it’s okay to seek help and support. You don’t have to face it alone. At Lightfully, we take a person-first treatment approach that focuses more on developing the core tools you need for mental wellness than minimizing symptoms. When you develop self-awareness and have strategies for managing your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships, you can create self-care practices and make decisions that lead to better moods.

What to do if you think you may have PDDas a college student

If you’re struggling with mild but persistent depression symptoms, you should talk to your doctor or a therapist. Check your school’s website to see if there are mental health resources on campus. It’s also a good idea to talk with a close friend or family member whom you trust. Having a strong support network outside of therapy is important because you won’t always be able to reach your therapist. Plus, friends and family can help you out with different kinds of support that a therapist can’t, like texting you positive messages in the morning or helping you manage your schedule.

Support groups are great places to learn about mental health and connect with others who are having similar problems. You’re welcome to come to our free online support group

We’re here to help you if you ever need more comprehensive mental health treatment than an outpatient therapist can provide. Learn about our Lightfully U program for college students or contact us with any questions you have. Things get brighter from here.

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