Clinical depression is an epidemic that is diagnosed in over 9 million Americans each year–a marginal amount of the real number it affects, since most Americans never seek medical aid for clinical depression. Clinical depression comes in a variety of forms.
While most Americans know about major depression–an episode of severe sadness–and other strains, such as postpartum depression and bipolar disorder, very few know about dysthymic depression. Dysthymia is characterized as depression that is not as acute as a major depressive disorder, but still falls within the spectrum of depression and is longterm, for two or more years.
In Greek, dysthymia means “bad state of mind” or “ill humor.” Dysthymic depression is often harder to identify than a major depressive disorder, as it is more subtle and long-term. Dysthymic depression is different from major depression in that the individual never experiences sharp amounts of depression that might lead to forced clinical help, such as suicide attempts; the individual is also able to remain mostly functional, although like any form of depression, dysthymia can interfere with critical choices and stages of life.
Several of the following symptoms, over the span of at least two or more years, may be cause to seek psychiatric help for dysthemia:
* Little to no joy in life
* Poor appetite (over- or under-eating)
* Insomnia or hypersomnia (too little or too much sleep)
* Low energy or fatigue
* Low self-esteem
* Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
* Feelings of hopelessness
* No history of a major depressive episode, manic episode, mixed episode, hypomanic episode or cyclothymic disorder
* Significant amounts of impairment or distress
Dysthymia is known for developing early in a person’s life, but help is not usually sought out for ten years or more. This is unfortunate, as the Primary Care Journal points to three percent of society being affected by this mental illness epidemic, and Harvard Health says that at least three-quarters of dysthymic depression individuals have other physical illnesses or psychiatric disorders like anxiety, drug addiction, and alcoholism; in short, these additional physical illnesses or psychiatric disorders could be prevented by treating the dysthymia earlier rather than later.
But don’t jump the gun and categorize yourself as dysthymic too fast; it’s easy to confuse grief with depression. Bereavement–the experience people have when someone close to them has died or is dying–has parallel symptoms to depression. Such grief could lead to major depression but should not be confused with the long-term debilitation of dysthymia.
Consult your doctor if you are concerned about your mental health.