Dysthymia - Causes

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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.

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Comment from: Meg, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: November 18

I feel like dysthymia set in to my life in early childhood. My father was an abusive alcoholic and my mother was a passive aggressive codependent. I never felt love from either of them. I loved in fear. I was chosen to be the scapegoat. I was chosen to care for my younger siblings when my mother disappeared for days. I felt a profound sense of abandonment. I felt profound sadness and worry. I used to hear dogs barking at night and wonder if they were barking at my mother. Sometimes she would take us with her and we would sleep in vacant houses for two or three nights. Other times we would sleep in Laundromats or the bushes. We would have to find coke bottles and get deposit money so we could eat; we went hungry for days. We lived in fear of our drunk father. One night he came outside and started shooting a gun; we were hiding in the empty house across the street. I always felt depressed in childhood and it has continued throughout my life. I don't have many friends, only two. My children rarely talk to me. I am single and live a very lonely life.

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Comment from: David, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: December 01

If I had to name the root cause for my dysthymia, I would say it was stress and lack of support. Stress from being raised in a family with one parent an alcoholic and the other trying hard to maintain a roof over our head and not much time to get involved with me. I followed my peer group and made many mistakes I now realize. After the passing of one parent it was still hard for the other one to keep it all together, so there was even less interaction with parents. My social anxiety kicked in around puberty 12 or so and made me want to run, not walk from any situation that trigger stress, just about anything that happened in school. I missed a lot of opportunities and just made graduation by the skin of my teeth. I am now trying to reinvent myself into the person I wanted to be as a child, confident in my abilities and happy with myself.

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