Dysthymia: do you know how to differentiate it from depression?

Dysthymia is characterized by a low mood, without being depressive, but persistent over time. With the symptoms shown by the patient, it cannot be said that they are going through a major depressive episode, since they show fewer symptoms than people suffering from this disorder. It can be said that when a person is going through depression their life is practically paralyzed. In many cases, they are unable to get out of bed and therefore have significant work, family, and social problems.

In dysthymia, the symptoms are not as severe as in depression, and the person is usually able to lead a more or less normal life. However, the disadvantage compared to depression lies in the duration of the symptoms, as they are usually chronic.

A person with dysthymia is usually defined as a sad, melancholic person. They have internalized sadness as a personal characteristic. They are usually very pessimistic people, with little hope for the future.

Socially, they tend to suffer from isolation and this is not voluntary. Normally their sad conversations and their state of mind end up distancing people from their environment, which only aggravates the symptoms.

Path and prevalence of dysthymia

Although there are few studies, a study from the 1980s in the United States establishes that dysthymia affects 3% of the population.

In addition, it has been found that it affects twice as many women as men and there is a higher prevalence in older age groups. This study shows that dysthymia is twice as prevalent among bachelors than married people and more cases appear in urban than in rural areas.

The onset of the disorder usually occurs around the age of 20, preceded by a major negative event, although this is not necessary.

In cases where the disorder begins before that age, the prognosis has been found to be worse, as symptoms may last longer and be more resistant to change.

I’m like this, I don’t need to go to a psychologist.

The biggest problem we encounter in patients with dysthymia occurs because their symptoms are not severe enough to paralyze their lives. They get used to living this way and believe that it is normal. Moreover, we cannot forget that they are pessimistic people who have little confidence in improvement.

It is precisely the failure to treat these symptoms from the beginning that leads to the problem becoming chronic. In fact, it can end up evolving into episodes of major depression, which is called double depression.

Double depression is characterized by moments of very acute depression within a context of continued low mood. These peaks of depression remit within a few days or weeks, but leave a deep impression on the patient.

Living with dysthymia 

The biggest problem we find in patients with dysthymia is in the area of social relationships and couples.

The person living with someone affected by dysthymia often feels very frustrated. Attempts to improve the person’s mood often end in failure. The illness gradually becomes the focus of the relationship. It is even observed that these people end up seeing how their mood is declining along with that of the dysthymic person.

In psychology, it is advisable to keep a certain distance from these depressive symptoms and, although it may be difficult, not to make the sadness they suffer the main topic of communication. It is common for the desire to help or even “save” the loved one to take away not only the relationship but also part of the mental health of the people close to them.

Treating dysthymia

To prevent these symptoms from becoming chronic or evolving, it is recommended that mental health specialists be consulted as soon as possible.

Psychology offers a wide range of treatments to treat dysthymia. As in many cases, it is something that the patient suffers for many years, so the treatment is not limited only to these symptoms but requires a much more comprehensive intervention.

At the beginning of the therapy, the patient’s negative feelings are addressed, both present and future, with a variety of techniques such as projection (to visualize a near future, create goals and work on motivation) and catharsis (explosion of feelings).

When moving on to a second phase of the treatment, with the patient already more motivated and result-oriented, personalized treatment is carried out to complete the patient’s deficient areas. For example, techniques can be used to improve social skills or stress management.

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