How Dysthymia Differs From Major Depression

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Dysthymia and major depression

Depression is a common form of mental illness that will plague many people in their lifetime. This mental illness is usually thought of as prolonged sadness. Because of this, the word depression is used frequently for any bout of sadness or any depressed mood, but it can also be very serious and result in a person taking their own life. Depression is a complex that can take many forms. Two of these variations are major depression and dysthymia. Many similarities exist between these two depression types, but there are key differences between them as well.

Major depression is usually associated with severe bouts of depression and hospitalization. Its symptoms are a lack of pleasure or interest in activities that once were enjoyable or a depressed mood that persists for at least 2 weeks2. These feelings also lead to a noticeable change in school, work, or social relationships. Along with this, there are seven other possible symptoms of depression.

  • Experiencing a significant weight loss without trying or weight gain is a sign of depression. A depressed person may also notice a consistent change in their appetite. A lack of sleep (insomnia) or oversleeping (hypersomnia) on a regular basis.
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation consistently. Examples may include pacing for psychomotor agitation and an inability to perform normal tasks for psychomotor retardation.
  • A loss of energy or fatigue consistently.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or feelings of overwhelming guilt.
  • Lack of concentration or indecisiveness or a reduced ability to think.
  • Thoughts about death, suicide, and suicide planning that are recurring.

If someone experiences four of these symptoms with a depressed feeling and/or a lack of pleasure or interest in enjoyable activities, they are experiencing major depression assuming these feelings do not follow the death of a loved one.

Dysthymia is similar in many ways to major depression in that sufferers may experience sleep problems, loss of energy, poor appetite, feelings of worthlessness and low self esteem, and poor concentration1. There is also a strong overlap between these two forms of depression. More than half of the people with dysthymia will also have an episode of major depression. When this happens, it is known as double depression. The treatment for major depression and dysthymia are also similar and include the same treatments such as cognitive behavior therapy, and use similar medications to treat them such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Effexor.

Dysthymia also differs in many ways from major depression. It lasts significantly longer than major depression with a diagnosis that requires a depressed mood which lasts for at least two years versus only two weeks. Due to its chronic natures, the number of symptoms required for diagnosis is fewer. Along with the depressed mood, only two other symptoms need to be present for the diagnosis of dysthymia. However, with dysthymia, the lack of pleasure or interest in activities and the psychomotor agitation or retardation does not exist. Hopelessness and low self-esteem are also possible symptoms.

Dysthymia may seem like a less severe version of depression, but its effects can be just as damaging if not more than major depression. Both are serious and similar yet different.