Dysthymia (cont.)

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What is dysthymia?

Dysthymia, now referred to as persistent depressive disorder, is a form of depression that tends to be characterized by fatigue and other physical symptoms, low energy, low self-esteem, and changes in appetite or sleep. This mood disorder tends to be less severe than major depression. However, dysthymia is chronic, in that despite potential brief periods of normal mood, symptoms last at least two years at a time in adults and more than one year at a time in children and adolescents.

The cost of dysthymic disorder to individuals with dysthymia, their families, and society is significant. For example, people with this illness can be twice as likely to develop dementia and therefore be unproductive and otherwise unable to care for themselves compared to those without dysthymia.

Statistics on dysthymia include its affecting 3%-6% of the population and up to one-third of people receiving outpatient mental-health services in the United States. It tends to afflict women at a higher rate than men. While elderly individuals seem to be less likely to develop major depression compared to younger people, senior citizens are more at risk for developing the less severe but chronic dysthymia. In contrast to the prevalence of major depression in ethnic groups in the United States, dysthymia tends to be more common in African Americans than in Caucasians and some Hispanic Americans.

Dysthymic disorder usually co-occurs (is comorbid) with other disorders, most commonly with major depression, anxiety, personality or somatoform disorders, as well as with alcohol or other drug abuse.

What are causes and risk factors for dysthymia?

As with most mental-health disorders, dysthymia does not have one single definitive cause. Rather, people with this illness tend to have a number of biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors that contribute to its development. Different areas of the brain of people with dysthymia tend to respond differently to negative emotions like fear and sadness, as well as to some physical sensations compared to the brains of people without the disorder. Genetic risk factors for developing dysthymic disorder include the tendency for those who suffer from this illness to have a family member who also suffers from either dysthymia, major depression, or a personality disorder. Significant stress during childhood or adulthood (for example, exposure to neglect, abuse, or community violence) and having negative social supports are psychosocial risk factors for dysthymia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/5/2015

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