Everyone remembers the grumpy Eeyore character from the Winnie the Pooh stories – permanently pessimistic and negative no matter what adventure happened to be going on.
If cartoon characters could be diagnosed, Eeyore would probably have some form of depression, maybe even the “milder” form of depression, Dysthymia.
What is dysthymia?
Dysthymia is a very long-term low mood, wherein people feel depressed, demotivated and fatigued for most of at least two years. Symptoms include decreased appetite, sleep disturbances, low self-esteem, pessimism and lack of motivation.
Where Dysthymia differs from major depression, however, is that the symptoms do not occur in a discreet short period, but rather form a sort of low-grade, chronic depressed mood that can go on for many years. Major depression occurs in intense bouts and can result in suicide attempts or a complete inability to function, but Dysthymia is often endured for years on end before it’s diagnosed.
No such thing as “minor depression”
Don’t let the above explanation fool you, though. Even a depression labeled as “low-grade” can be incredibly debilitating. Those suffering from Dysthymia may pass up opportunities, withdraw from life and generally start to believe that their glass-half-empty attitude is simply part of life, or who they are. This can have subtle but long lasting effects on work, relationships and life satisfaction.
Also worth noting is that those with Dysthymia more often that not have another disorder such as anxiety, panic, personality disorders or substance abuse. In some cases, mental health professionals can identify “double depression” or instances of a background of Dysthymia with an added major depressive episode occurring over it.
The silver lining of dysthymia
The good news is that Dysthymia is highly treatable and with the right combination of medication and therapy, mood can be lifted. While there are neurochemical reasons behind a permanently bleak and listless outlook on life, there is also a lot that can be done to address underlying beliefs about the self and life. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can teach you to become more aware of your thoughts and the emotions that result from them. It can be difficult to break out of a prison of negative thinking and cynicism, but many people find that in time they can gain a more balanced outlook on life.
Your counsellor or therapist may suggest medications and “homework assignments” to do at home; likewise depression is often greatly helped with regular physical exercise, a diet rich in fresh produce and healthy fats and the elimination of substances that aggravate depression, such as alcohol or cannabis.
The newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has renamed Dysthymia as “Persistant Depressive Disorder”, although it is in essence the same set of symptoms. There are several different mood disorders, which only a qualified professional can diagnose, however a consistently low mood is always cause for concern, whatever the cause.
Take heart that even though you may not feel as though you have some of the more dramatic sounding symptoms for Bipolar or Major Depression, feeling hopeless, listless and depressed most of the time is not normal, and a counsellor can help you figure out the best way to move forward.
If you think you or someone you know suffers from dysthymia or depression, let Australian Counselling help you. Click here to look for a therapist or a counsellor with whom you can speak with.