October 23, 2014


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Dysthymic Disorder

(Dysthymia, Depressive Neurosis)

The Facts on Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymia is a mood or affective disorder. It is a chronic, mild depression that lasts for a long period of time. The word dysthymia comes from Greek roots meaning "ill-humour." Dysthymic disorder has less of the mental and physical symptoms that a person with major depressive disorder experiences.

The condition usually starts in early adulthood, and the disorder can last for years or even decades. Later onset is usually associated with bereavement or obvious stress, and often follows on the heels of a more extreme depressive episode. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from dysthymia, in a similar ratio to that seen with major depression.

In the past, dysthymia had several other names: depressive neurosis, neurotic depression, depressive personality disorder, and persistent anxiety depression.

Causes of Dysthymic Disorder

The exact cause of dysthymia is not known, but a combination of factors are thought to play a role in its development. Heredity (genetics) can play a role, and people with family members who have depression or dysthymia are more likely to experience dysthymia, especially when it starts early in life (teens to early 20s).

Changes in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain may also precipitate dysthymia. Chronic stress or medical illness, social isolation, and thoughts and perceptions about the world, can all influence the development of dysthymia. Other mental health conditions (e.g., borderline personality disorder) can also increase the risk of its development.

About 1 out of 4 people with dysthymia develop the condition in midlife, known as late-onset dysthymia. Symptoms usually follow a particular depressive episode, related to some shock or loss a person has experienced.

Symptoms and Complications of Dysthymic Disorder

Signs that a person may be suffering from dysthymia include:

  • depressed mood for prolonged periods
  • low self-esteem
  • low energy, tiredness
  • sleep irregularities
  • changes in appetite
  • poor concentration
  • hopelessness

The severity of these symptoms varies and depends on the individual. Some people can still deal with the basic demands of life, while others undergo significant distress, making it difficult to cope with work, school, or social situations.

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Depression Symptom Checker Tool

The Depression Symptom Checker tool can help you learn about depression. Use this tool to create a list of your symptoms and rate how much the symptoms impact your life on a daily basis. The checklist is divided into 6 symptom categories that are associated with depression. You can also learn more about symptoms of depression here.

For each statement choose a number from 0 to 4 that describes the impact on your daily life, where 4 has the highest impact and 0 has no impact:

  • 0 = no impact on daily life/no symptoms
  • 1 = mild impact on daily life
  • 2 = moderate impact on daily life
  • 3 = severe impact on daily life
  • 4 = debilitating impact on daily life

It is important to remember that this is not a “score” but a way to help you communicate how much you feel the symptom impacts your daily life. When you finish you will be able to print out your symptoms and share this information with your doctor. Use the Doctor Discussion Guide to prepare for your doctor’s visit.

Rate how much the following symptoms apply to you.

1. Emotions

Depression can affect anyone at any age, although it most commonly appears between 15 and 45 years of age.

0 1 2 3 4
0 1 2 3 4
0 1 2 3 4
0 1 2 3 4

Visit your doctor with these results, when booking your appointment inform your doctor that you may need extra time to discuss these matters. Getting help for your depression can change your life. Don’t wait- depression is an illness that can, and should be treated.

Thoughts about death or suicide are common in depression, and it’s important to take such thoughts seriously. If you feel like giving up or as if you might hurt yourself, get help immediately: call your doctor, go to the emergency room or call 911.

This tool is adapted with permission from similar content found on www.depressionhurts.ca.


The contents of this site are for informational purposes only and are meant to be discussed with your physician or other qualified health care professional before being acted on. Never disregard any advice given to you by your doctor or other qualified health care professional. Always seek the advice of a physician or other licensed health care professional regarding any questions you have about your medical condition(s) and treatment(s). This site is not a substitute for medical advice.

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