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What Is Persistent Depressive Disorder?

Dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, is just one of many types of depression. Here are its symptoms.

Depression and anxiety used to be topics that were kept in the closet or swept under the rug, but the stigma surrounding these conditions has begun to shift. That’s thanks in part to courageous and honest celebrities — Ellen DeGeneres, Harrison Ford, Kristin Bell, Lady Gaga, and Channing Tatum, just to name a few — who have spoken out about their mental illness.

Despite this growing awareness, however, depression is still misunderstood by plenty of people. In this article, we’re shedding light on persistent depressive disorder, its causes, and treatment. 

The Different Faces of Depression

First, it is important to understand that “depression” is a fairly broad, catch-all term. There are several distinct diagnoses. 

Major depressive disorder, postpartum depressive disorder, seasonal depression, and dysthymic disorder all share many characteristics. What distinguishes them is not necessarily their symptoms, but their timing, frequency, consistency, and duration.

Depression can also be a symptom of some other mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenic disorder. 

What Does Depression Feel Like?

Just as there is no one specific diagnosis of depression, there’s no rigid set of symptoms, either.

Some people exhibit stereotypical behaviors, like not wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, overeating, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, and isolating themselves. Others, whose depression is just as serious, might function just fine on a day-to-day basis, laugh and joke with friends, and otherwise appear “normal.”

Some of the ways depression might manifest itself include: 

  • Diminished enthusiasm for hobbies or interests
  • Feeling that life is hopeless or pointless
  • Fatigue, low motivation, listlessness, lack of energy
  • Poor self-esteem or low self-confidence
  • Being irritable or snappish
  • Difficulty concentrating or the inability to make decisions
  • Decreased productivity or declining performance at work
  • Excessive worry over the future, or guilt about the past
  • Appetite changes or overeating
  • Insomnia or sleeping excessively

Depression sometimes masquerades as physical pain, as well. 

How Is Persistent Depressive Disorder Different?

Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder is generally a more mild form of depression than the most common type, major depressive disorder. Yet it is also characterized by its long-term nature. To be diagnosed with dysthymia, a person must present with persistent symptoms lasting longer than two years.

Dysthymia is an insidious disease, because people who suffer from it become accustomed to their depression and learn to live with it. It might not interfere with their daily life to the same extent that major depressive disorder might.

Some three-quarters of patients diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder also experience major depressive episodes.  

This means that they will experience a period of extremely debilitating depression, but once they overcome that, they don’t become asymptomatic. They return to a steady, subtle existence of dysthymia.

The Causes of Depression

One of the difficulties with treating depression is that its origin and causes aren’t very well understood. Clinical depression can stem from:

  • Trauma, including physical or emotional abuse
  • An upsetting event or circumstance such as the death of a loved one or a natural disaster
  • Substance abuse
  • Hormonal changes
  • Physical health conditions
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications

Brain scans of people with depression do show a number of differences between their brain matter and that of non-depressed people. There are many regions of the brain that are likely involved in the development of depressive disorders. Yet there is no single neural pathway or brain structure that is entirely responsible.

Is There a Treatment for Dysthymia?

There are several, just as there is a wide range of treatment options for anyone diagnosed with depressive disorder. The two most common treatments are psychotherapy and medication. Mental health experts agree that both of these treatments are most effective when they are used in combination.

Antidepressant drugs can help to address the neurological and biochemical reasons for mental illness. It can be tricky to discover which medications, and at which doses, are the most effective for a particular patient. This process involves a lot of trial and error. It’s also time-consuming, because antidepressants can take weeks to fully have an effect.

There are a variety of talk therapy options as well. Many practitioners also employ some form of behavioral therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy. 

Recently, a lot of attention has been given to some slightly unorthodox methods of treating depression, include ketamine therapy and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation. In ketamine therapy, patients are given a dose of a psychedelic drug called ketamine or a similar, FDA-approved medication called Spravato. This may be particularly helpful for patients whose depression is treatment resistant.

Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation has made headlines after a photograph of a woman wearing a “depression helmet” went viral. A medical device intended to magnetically “reset the brain,” this treatment too is FDA approved. 

Both of these unusual treatment methods are prohibitively expensive for the majority of patients, and are not covered by health insurance. So for now, most people must rely on traditional antidepressant medications, along with counseling, to manage their mental health.

Seek Help

Do you suspect that you might have undiagnosed depression? The first thing that you should know is there is no shame in it. Mental illness is illness, every bit as valid as diabetes, astigmatism, or Lyme disease. For that reason, you should try to be open-minded about the idea of treating this illness with medication.

However, there is also some emotional work to be done. Visit a therapist or counselor to learn the tools of coping with depression, as well as to address its roots in your psyche. It may take some time before you find a professional with whom you are comfortable — that’s OK, too.

Discussing your depression with friends and family members is a good idea. That way, they can understand what’s going on with you, and help support you in your journey to overcome this illness.

Lastly, don’t be hard on yourself or expect yourself to “man up” or “snap out of it.” Depression isn’t just a state of mind, and you can’t overcome it through sheer willpower alone. 

Ready to get help for your persistent depressive disorder? Contact us at Blair Wellness Group. It’s confidential and there’s no obligation.

If you found this article helpful in understanding more about depressive disorder, visit our site today and get an appointment with the best Psychologist Los Angeles and increase your confidence to live a stress free life.

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