Dysthymic Disorder: Often Undiagnosed but Very Treatable

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There are many people who feel depressed, with it going undiagnosed over the course of their lifetime. 

One reason may be that being diagnosed with depression in our society has had a negative connotation. Hopefully, with more people blogging and discussing topics we aren’t comfortable with, the stigma will disappear. With the ongoing research and resources available to help people feel better, it seems a shame that many people will continue to suffer in silence.

Another reason that people may go undiagnosed, however, is that they are suffering from a type of depression called Dysthymic Disorder (now known as Persistent Depressive Disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  Feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, difficulty in making decisions, poor appetite, insomnia and low energy can all be symptoms of various ailments; but, having two or more of these symptoms with a depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not, over the course of at least two years, may indicate this disorder.

If you have been called moody and showed irritability as a child or adolescent and now are an adult who just feels like you are going through the motions without experiencing the joys of ecstasy and the sorrows of loss, you may have Dysthymic Disorder. It is a type of depression with a low level of feeling down most of the time that is not due to substance abuse, medication or a medical condition.

  You may function at a normal level at work, but at home you can’t keep a relationship or are single. Socially, you may feel like you just don’t fit in and most of the time you don't bother to try. Or, you might be okay at home, but show impairment in your job. You may not see any need to continue to learn new things and you are performing tasks at work without any sense of accomplishment.

Or perhaps you don’t have a job at the current time and you don’t have the energy to find one either.

Sometimes, too, events that happen in our lives throw us into a storm and we struggle to get our footing back. The situation can cause temporary depressive-like symptoms; but, if you never seem to recover from the loss, you are stuck and may be depressed.

So, what you may be thinking is: I have never felt any different than this and this is just how my life is. I’m used to feeling this way and I’m comfortable. Can I really change these feelings? They are a part of me and it’s not that bad.

Please know feeling depressed is not your fault. Brain chemistry research is uncovering many of the whys and the chemical serotonin seems to be one of the culprits. It is out of balance in your system. As a mental health licensed therapist, I have worked with people who are depressed and have used cognitive and dialectical behavior therapies, meditations, positive-thinking mantras and rituals, daily prayers, diet and exercise, self-help books and energy psychology and have noticed that these methods alone do not help people overcome the symptoms of depression for the long haul.

But, add a daily pill to the mix and it’s like working with the new, improved version of the person. They become in awe of how wonderful life feels and can’t believe what they have been missing all these years.

Did you know that being depressed is potentially linked with many different health problems? As we grow older, the potential for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune diseases increases exponentially. I know you have learned to live with feeling rotten, but help and feeling fulfilled and happier is available. If you reach out and ask for treatment options, I believe it may be like finding the fountain of youth. It could be the first time in your life when you get why everyone else is smiling.

So, take the first step. Make an appointment to see a professional. It can be your medical doctor, a licensed therapist, a psychiatrist or a pediatrician (if you notice the symptoms in your child). The stigma that used to exist is dissipating. Go ahead and tell your story. Don’t be afraid to give as many details as possible. Take control of your life and have the conversation. Please understand that the problem did not happen overnight and it’s not an overnight fix. Finding the right medication for your body chemistry usually takes some trial and error. You can and will feel better. Life doesn’t have to be so melancholy. It’s time to enjoy living. We are meant to feel good.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Fifth Edition.   Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. 2013.

"How Depression Affects Your Body."  WebMD Medical Reference.  Reviewed by: Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 31, 2014.  WebMD, LLC.  Accessed:  May 20, 2015.

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