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Basic Information About Dysthymic Disorder


Updated January 19, 2012

Dysthymia (pronounced Dis-THIGH-me-uh) comes from the Greek roots dys, meaning "ill" or "bad", and thymia, meaning "mind" or "emotions". The terms dysthymia and dysthymic disorder refer to a mild, chronic state of depression.


The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to major depression, but are less severe. These symptoms include:

  • either poor appetite or eating too much
  • sleep difficulties
  • fatigue
  • low self-esteem
  • difficuly concentrating or making decisions
  • feelings of hopelessness


There is no laboratory test for dysthymia. A diagnosis must be made by a mental health professional after reviewing your symptoms and medical history. In order to be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, your symptoms cannot be better accounted for by drug or alcohol abuse, a medical condition, or another psychological disorder. You also must meet the criteria set forth by the DSM-IV (a manual used to classify psychological disorders). According to the DSM-IV, if you have felt symptoms of depression more often than not for at least two years then you could be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder. For children, the requirement is lowered to one year.


Treatment for dysthymia is similar to that for major depression. Some patients will do well with psychotherapy alone, while others may require medication. St. John's Wort, which has been reported to be helpful with cases of mild to moderate depression, may also be an option.

What Dysthymia Feels Like

A person with dysthymia may be able to function in their day-to-day life, but never feels quite right. They may report feeling like they've been depressed all their lives or say they feel like they are just barely managing to keep their head above water.

What Is Double Depression?

A person with dysthymia may at some point also experience a major depressive episode. When the major depressive episode ends, they return to their previous state of chronic, low-level depression. When an episode of major depression is superimposed on dysthymia it is referred to as double depression.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

Boehnlein, B. and L.D. Oakley. "Implications of self-administered St. John's wort for depression symptom management." J Am Acad Nurse Pract 14.10 (2002): 443-8.

Robertson's Words for a Modern Age: A Dictionary of Latin and Greek Words used in Modern-English Vocabulary. Rev. September 2, 2006. http://www.wordinfo.info/ (September 6, 2006).

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