When my children was between the ages of 4 to 7, dinosaurs were of huge interest. They were fascinated by all things prehistoric. Not only could they identify many of these creatures (T-Rex, Triceratops, Stegosaurus…), they could tell you all about them. Who knew there were so many types of dinosaurs?
We can think of depression in the same way. Just like “dinosaurs” is a major category including many types, “depression” is a major category. Some types of depression that you may already be aware of: major depression, bipolar depression (also known as manic depression), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), postpartum depression, psychotic depression… Who knew there were so many types of depression? What about dysthymia?
Dysthymia (also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder or PDD) affects up to 6% of the general population with women being three times more likely to be diagnosed than men (US stats according to Health Research Funding.org ).
This ‘dinosaur’ is characterized by a mild depression that lasts at least two years. The symptoms are less severe than major depression, but are longer lasting or chronic. Thankfully, the more severe symptoms that mark major depression—including anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), psychomotor symptoms (particularly lethargy or agitation), and thoughts of death or suicide—are often absent in PDD.
Unlike other types of depression, dysthymia often goes under the radar because people are able to function.
Agnes (a 30 year old woman) hasn’t felt ‘happy’ for a long time. Even though she gets plenty of sleep (maybe too much, she wonders), she doesn’t have any energy. At work, she has difficulty concentrating. At home, Agnes can’t make decisions about simple things. Unable to decide about what to have for dinner…most nights she stands in front of the fridge eating whatever comes to hand. Healthy eating has become a thing of the past. When Agnes thinks back over the past few years, she can describe a few weeks when the ‘fog’ lifted, but it always returns. While Agnes is able to get through her days, she is starting to feel hopeless…that she will feel this way forever.
On the advice of a friend, Agnes recently talked to her doctor who, based on her symptoms, suggested that she may be suffering from dysthymia.
Am I at Risk?
If 6% of the population may suffer from dysthymia during their life time, am I at risk? Let’s look at the five main risk factors:
- A first degree relative (parents or sibling) has been diagnosed with depression,
- You have recently experienced a traumatic or stressful life event,
- Negative personality traits (e.g. low self-esteem, self-critical or pessimistic),
- Personal history of other mental health disorders (e.g. antisocial, borderline, obsessive compulsive),
- Being isolated or having a lack of social connections.
Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that you will develop dysthymia, but it does mean that you may want to take care of yourself. But how?
The Power of Self-Care and Awareness
Working with clients who are learning to cope with any form of depression, one of the first things we do is talk about self-care. When we take care of ourselves, we are healing current conditions and preventing future ones. So what can we do?
- Control stress: Exercise, meditate, do an activity that you enjoy.
- Reach out for support: As people become more cut-off from each other, incidents of loneliness are increasing. Think about developing your own support system.
- Get help at the first sign of dysthymia: Talk to your doctor or a therapist before your symptoms become chronic.
- If you have already experienced and overcome dysthymia, consider long-term maintenance treatment to prevent a relapse.
If you are currently suffering with dysthymia, there are two main areas of treatment: prescription medication (SSRI’s such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft) and psychotherapy–specifically Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that helps to change negative ways of thinking.
Dysthymia, or any other form of depression, doesn’t have to be a life-sentence. There are things that you can do.
And now…I wonder if this well-known character suffers from dysthymia? Enjoy!