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Dysthymic Disorder


  • Dysthymic (dis-THI-mic) disorder, also called dysthymia, is a long-term mild to moderate type of mood (emotion) disorder. It is the most common type of depression and is often seen among women. It may be caused by physical or sexual abuse in childhood or having a family member with dysthymia. Certain conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism, or having behavior or personality problems, such as panic disorder, may also cause dysthymia. Dysthymia is when you feel depressed most of the day and are depressed for more days than not for at least two years. Dysthymia affects how you feel about yourself and life in general. It can involve a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all of your usual activities. This may greatly affect your daily activities at school, work, or at home. Dysthymia may also cause you to have problems getting along with your family, friends, and other people.
  • When dysthymia occurs with more severe depression, you may have something called double depression. Double depression happens when you have both dysthymia and major depression. A guide is used by caregivers to diagnose dysthymia. At least two symptoms must be present for at least two years for a diagnosis to be made. Also, there should not have been more than one or two months where you have not had any symptoms. These symptoms must be bad enough to cause problems with your daily activities and relationships. Symptoms may include trouble sleeping or eating, worrying a lot, or feeling negative. Treatment for dysthymia includes behavior therapy and psychotherapy, anti-depressant medicines, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Diagnosing and treating dysthymia as soon as possible may relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • Dysthymic disorder is not life-threatening. Treatment for dysthymia may cause unwanted side effects. Some medicines may cause your signs and symptoms to become worse. You may also have nausea (upset stomach), increased appetite for food, weight gain, or decreased sexual desire. Other side effects may include drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation (dry, hard stools), and dizziness. With ECT, you may have nausea, vomiting (throwing up), or trouble remembering things. Your memory usually gets better several days or weeks after the ECT is done.
  • If dysthymia is left untreated, your mood disorder may get worse and you may also develop other serious problems. These include alcohol or drug use, major depression, and problems with your daily activities and relationships. You may also continue to have a poor self-image, and may get more sad or negative about your life. You may even have thoughts of harming yourself or others. The earlier dysthymia is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances of preventing future problems. Your health, quality of life, and ability to function may decrease without treatment. Ask your caregiver if you are worried or have questions about your condition, medicines, or care.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.

Psychiatric assessment:

Caregivers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed. Caregivers will ask you if you have been a victim of a crime or natural disaster, or if you have a serious injury or disease. They will ask you if you have seen other people being harmed, such as in combat. You will be asked if you drink alcohol or use drugs at present or in the past. Caregivers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. How you answer these questions can help caregivers decide on treatment. To help during treatment, caregivers will ask you about such things as how you feel about it and your hobbies and goals. Caregivers will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.


is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.


You may have any of the following:

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
  • Urine sample: For this test you need to urinate into a small container. You will be given instructions on how to clean your genital area before you urinate. Do not touch the inside of the cup. Follow instructions on where to place the cup of urine when you are done.
  • EEG: This test is also called an electroencephalogram. Many small pads or metal discs are put on your head. Each has a wire that is hooked to a machine. This machine prints a paper tracing of brain wave activity from different parts of your brain. Caregivers look at the tracing to see how your brain is working.
  • Sleep studies: Sleep studies are also called polysomnography. Sleep studies can help caregivers see how your brain, heart, and breathing system are working during sleep. Sleep studies may monitor the stages of sleep, oxygen levels, body position, eye movement, and snoring during sleep.

Treatment options:

You may have any of the following:

  • Anti-depressant medicines: These medicines may be used to help treat your depression by lifting up your mood.
  • Therapies:
    • Behavior therapy: With a therapist, you will learn how to control your actions and change your behavior to help make yourself feel better. You will be taught how to change your behavior by looking at the results of your actions. You may learn that certain behaviors have good or bad results. These results may make you feel either good or bad about yourself. Good behaviors will be rewarded and encouraged, while unwanted or bad behaviors will be discouraged. Ask your caregiver for more information about behavior therapy.
    • Electroconvulsive therapy: This therapy, also called ECT, may be used when anti-depressant medicines, behavior therapy, or psychotherapy does not work. It is done by sending a small electric shock through the brain.
    • Psychotherapy: This is also called talk therapy. These talks are usually done in a series of meetings. Meetings or talks may be held with you and may include your family or friends. These meetings can help everyone better understand dysthymia.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Dysthymic Disorder (Inpatient Care)

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Symptoms and treatments