Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

What is Persistent Depressive Disorder?

Persistent Depressive Disorder used to be known as dysthymia. This is a chronic form of depression that causes an individual’s mood to be in a low state on a regular basis.

The chronically depressed state of persistent depressive disorder will last a minimum of two years.

Despite the consistent nature of this disorder, however, the symptoms that are associated with it aren’t as severe as those associated with major depression.

What are the Symptoms of Persistent Depressive Disorder?

Persistent depressive disorder will cause a depressed mood that will occur for the majority of the day, and an individual will be depressed on more days than not. This will go on for a minimum of one year for adolescents and children, and for two years in adults.


In addition to feeling down, there will be at least of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue or low levels of energy
  • Difficulty making choices or having difficulty concentrating
  • Hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Low self-esteem
  • Hopeless feelings
  • Overeating or poor appetite

Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia) Causes

There doesn’t seem to be a single causes of dysthymia; instead, experts believe that there are a number of factors which contribute to the condition.

Firstly, it appears that people with dysthymia could have physical differences in the brain which might contribute to the condition. Although currently it isn’t clear why these biological changes could cause dysthymia, research is still being done to establish their effects on mood.

Secondly, as with many other types of mental health disorders, brain chemistry plays a role in dysthymia. Experts have discovered that neurotransmitters – chemicals which naturally occur in the brain to send messages between different brain cells – could function incorrectly. This seems to affect the stability of mood.

The third factor involved in the cause of dysthymia is genetics. It appears that the condition can be inherited and people with close relatives with it are more likely to develop it themselves. However, researchers have not yet been able to identify specific genes which could cause dysthymia.

Finally, environmental factors play a role in dysthymia. Sometimes persistent depression can be triggered by a traumatic life event, emotional trauma or extreme stress. Losing a family member or being made redundant from a job, for example, might trigger dysthymia in some people.

How is Persistent Depressive Disorder Treated?

To self-treat your persistent depressive disorder, you can try getting adequate amounts of sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, participating in activities that lift your mood, talking about your feelings with people you trust, surrounding yourself with people who are positive and caring, and avoiding illegal drugs and alcohol.

Medications can also be prescribed by your doctor, and you may benefit from talk therapy in the form of insight-oriented psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia) Prevention

It isn’t always possible to prevent dysthymia, but it may be possible to reduce the risk of triggering the condition through severe stress or emotional trauma. Although these things can’t always be avoided, the way we process them may help to prevent them from developing into depression.

Talking therapy can be a huge help in coming to terms with major life events like the loss of a loved one or the breakdown of a relationship. It can allow you to let out and process the emotions that you’re feeling in a confidential, calm environment which might help to prevent persistent depression.

Finding ways to reduce stress is also very important. For some, it may be helpful to find a better work-life balance in order to reduce the stress felt at work. For others, finding relaxing hobbies to do outside of work can be useful; exercise is a particularly good way to relieve stress and unwind. Meditation and yoga can also be valuable stress-relievers which might help to prevent dysthymia.

Last Reviewed:
October 08, 2016
Last Updated:
December 27, 2017
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