We all feel down in the dumps sometimes. But do you feel in a low mood more often than not? You may be suffering from dysthymia, a mild form of depression.

Some people think the regular sadness they feel is normal and chalk up low moods to personality or the aches and pains of growing older. They don't seek help because the symptoms of dysthymia generally aren't as intense as those of full-blown, clinical depression. But dysthymia is treatable—and treating the condition now can help ward off major depression later.

Dysthymia is characterized by a low, sad or depressed mood most days of the week for at least two years plus two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Overeating or no appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

Symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of major depression, but they aren't as severe and they tend to last longer. In comparison, people with major depression experience at least five symptoms every day for two or more weeks. Although people with dysthymia have fewer symptoms, their symptoms may be just as disabling.

Dysthymia can strike at any age—childhood, midlife or late life. Doctors don't know the exact causes of dysthymia, but it tends to run in families. In older adults, the disorder is often triggered by a major life stressor, such as:

  • Loss of a spouse or loved one
  • Major illness
  • Financial difficulties
  • Isolation
  • Mental decline
  • Difficulty taking care of oneself

Dysthymia can be serious enough to affect your ability to function and thrive. It's critical to address what's causing your low moods, so seek help if you suspect you may have the condition. Your doctor may suggest behavioral or talk therapy or an antidepressant.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 08 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 08 Jul 2013