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Ask the Experts


What is dysthymic disorder and how is it diagnosed?

Answered by: David Hellerstein

Dysthymic disorder (abbreviated as DD) is chronic low-grade depression. To qualify for the diagnosis of dysthymic disorder, a person must have been feeling depressed for at least two years. In practice, people often after have suffered from dysthymic symptoms for twenty or thirty years or more before seeking treatment!

Dysthymic disorder can be thought of as a paradoxical disorder. Though its symptoms are fairly mild on a day-to-day basis, over a lifetime DD is actually a severe disorder—leading to high rates of suicide, work impairment, and social isolation. In fact, the risk of suicide is higher with dysthymia than major depression! Another aspect of the paradox is that because people think of dysthymia as mild they often do not seek treatment. Or if they do seek treatment, it is with types of medicine or therapy that are unlikely to help them feel better.