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Ask the Experts

Question:

I am 18, mostly depressed, and rarely happy. I have no goals. Does this mean I have dysthymia or might I have another kind of depression?

Answered by: David Hellerstein

Symptoms of depression can be present for a brief period of time, such as days or weeks--or they can be present for months, years, or even decades. When they are present for years, they can have a significant effect on the quality of life, including on work, school performance, relationships, and even on physical health. Thus, for a person who has longstanding depression, it is important to consider getting an evaluation of these symptoms.

Chronic depression can be the result of a variety of causes, including medical conditions such as thyroid disease, as well as psychiatric disorders such as dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia.

Dysthymic disorder is chronic low-grade depression (see other questions in Ask the Experts), but it is not the only psychiatric cause of longstanding depressive symptoms. For instance, chronic depression can be seen in bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, personality disorders, and many other conditions. In a psychiatric evaluation, your doctor can sort out these possibilities, and come up with a diagnosis -- and a treatment plan. Treatment of dysthymic disorder can include medication, psychotherapy, or combined treatments.