Dysthymia (Chronic Depression) – Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

A Dysthymia is also called as Chronic Depression where symptoms of depression last for long-term (two years or more). It is less severe than Major depression.

Patients affected from Dysthymia are able to function adequately however they are consistently sad or unhappy.

In fact, patients who have Dysthymia, may also experience episodes of Major Depression (once or more) sometimes.

Causes of Dysthymia

There is no exact cause known for Dysthymia. Researchers believe that the dysthymia may result from either a single cause or a combination of one or more causes.

Dysthymia may be related to the following factors

  • Brain changes involving Serotonin (neurotransmitter that helps brain in coping with emotions)
  • Major life stressors
  • Chronic illness
  • Medications
  • Relationship or work problems

Signs and Symptoms of Dysthymia

The symptoms of Dysthymia are similar to that of Major Depression however they lack in their severity and intensity.

Common symptoms of Dysthymia

  • Depressed mood
  • Lack of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Excessive movement or slowing down
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changes in appetite
  • Mental and physical sluggishness
  • Persistent aches or pains
  • Headaches, cramps
  • Digestive problems
  • Suicidal Tendency

Diagnosis of Dysthymia

A psychiatrist makes the diagnosis of Dysthymia based on the symptoms present in the patient.

The criteria for distinguishing Dysthymia involve the following.

  • Symptoms must have lasted for a longer period of time (two years of more)
  • Symptoms must be less severe than symptoms of major depression
  • Symptoms should not result due to substance abuse or any medical condition
  • Symptoms should cause clinically significant distress
  • Symptoms should cause impairment in social and occupational areas of your life

A psychiatrist will perform the following diagnostic procedures for Dysthymia. There is no blood test, X-ray or laboratory test involved.

  • Full patient medical history/evaluation
  • personal and family psychiatric history
  • Physical Assessment
  • Thorough evaluation of symptoms

Treatment of Dysthymia

Although dysthymia is a serious disease, it can be treated. The early diagnosis and medical treatment effectively reduces the intensity and duration of depression symptoms.

Your psychiatrist may use various treatment therapies for treating dysthymia including Anti-Depressants medications, Psychotherapy, light therapy, ECT (Electroconvulsant therapy (ECT), etc.


It is also known as talk therapy where patient is imparted wit coping skills for dealing with stresses related to everyday life. This therapy also assists in increasing compliance to medication and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits.

Psychotherapy may involve one-on-one therapy, group therapy, or family therapy.


Your psychiatrist may recommend effective antidepressants with minimum side effects after assessing your physical and mental health.

Antidepressants exert their effect gradually over a period of time and may take many weeks to work optimally. Patients may need to take anti-depressants for at least six to nine months.

Some commonly used antidepressants used for treating Dysthymia are as follows:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, Zoloft
  • Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors : Effexor, Cymbalta, Pristiq
  • Tricyclic antidepressants :  Elavil, Asendin, Anafranil, Norpramin, Adapin, Sinequan, Tofranil
  • Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors :  Marplan, Nardil, Parnate,EMSAM
  • Trazodone : Desyrel
  • Other antidepressants : Mirtazapine, Bupropion

Other Treatments Available for Dysthymia

  • Light Therapy: It is effective in patients with seasonal depression
  • Electroconvulsant therapy (ECT): It is recommended in patients who are not responding to antidepressant medications.
  • Lithium/Anticonvulsant: It is recommended in patients who are experiencing manic episodes.