Page header image


What is dysthymia?

Dysthymia is a mild depression. Dysthymia is feeling sad, uninterested, or hopeless almost every day. You may lack interest in life and activities, or always feel down on yourself. In adults, it may last for 2 years or more. In children, it lasts more than 1 year.

How does it occur?

Dysthymia usually starts gradually. It can begin in childhood, but usually starts when you are a teenager or young adult. About 6% of Americans have it sometime in their lives. You are more likely to develop it if you have a family member who has had some form of depression. Women are 2 to 3 times more likely to get dysthymia than men.

What are the symptoms?

Besides feeling somewhat sad and uninterested in things, you may also:

  • Be irritable.
  • Have trouble falling asleep, wake up very early, or sleep too much.
  • Have little appetite or want to eat all the time.
  • Be easily tired and low in energy.
  • Have low sexual desire.
  • Feel worthless and guilty.
  • Have trouble concentrating or remembering things.
  • Feel hopeless or just not care about anything.
  • Have unexplained physical symptoms.
  • Worry that you may never feel better.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or a mental health therapist will ask about your symptoms and any drug or alcohol use. You may have lab tests to rule out medical problems such as hormone imbalances.

How is it treated?

Do not try to overcome dysthymia by yourself. Depression is a physical illness as well as a psychological one. Do not expect yourself to "snap out of it." It can be successfully treated with psychotherapy, antidepressant medicine, or both. Talk with your healthcare provider or therapist about this.


Antidepressant medicines can help treat dysthymia. Your healthcare provider will work with you to carefully select one for you.

You must take these medicines daily for 3 to 6 weeks to get full benefit from them. Most people benefit most from taking these medicines for at least 6 months.

No nonprescription medicines are available to treat depression.


Seeing a mental health therapist is helpful. You may need therapy for a very short time or for many months. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps you identify and change thought processes. Replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones can help your depression.

Complementary Treatments

Claims have been made that many herbal and dietary products help depression. Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce symptoms of depression. St. John's wort can help mild symptoms of depression. It will not help severe cases of depression.

Be careful which products you use. "Natural" products are not standardized. They may have different strengths and effects. Some may be contaminated. Herbs and supplements affect your body and may interact with prescription medicines. Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about any supplements that you are using or considering.

How long will the effects last?

Dysthymia can go on for years. Seek professional help to overcome or reduce the symptoms.

How can I take care of myself?

Certain medicines such as Accutane, Lariam, Levaquin, benzodiazepines, digitalis, and beta blockers can add to the symptoms of depression. Be sure that your healthcare provider knows about all of the medicines, vitamins and supplements you are taking.

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider's instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

When should I seek help?

Do not try to overcome dysthymia by yourself. Seek professional help if you believe that you or a loved one has symptoms of depression.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one have serious thoughts of suicide or harming others.

Written by Gayle Zieman, PhD, for RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-12-22
Last reviewed: 2010-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
Page footer image