Difference between dysthymia and depression

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Depressive disorders include dysthymia and depression. Although they share many similarities, there are some major variances.

Many people with depression find that their illness is controllable and responds well to treatment, regardless of the type of depression they have.

It might be difficult for doctors to distinguish between different types of depressive illnesses because of their comparable symptoms. Depression and dysthymia are the most common. The type of depression you have may help you better manage your condition and discover support that works for you.

What is dysthymia? 

Dysthymia is an older name for chronic depression. It’s now called persistent depressive disorder (PDD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) (DSM-5).

Unlike other types of depression disorders that involve periods of ordinary, non-depressed moods, PDD is persistent.

Dysthymia symptoms

Symptoms of PDD aren’t usually as evident as symptoms of severe depressive illness. Instead, symptoms could mimic gloominess or pessimism.

Symptoms can alter and evolve but are present most of the time. They include:

  • Lack of humor
  • Persistent gloom
  • Pessimism
  • Passivity
  • Lethargy
  • Introversion
  • Self-criticism
  • Judgment
  • Dissatisfaction

What is depression?

“Depression” usually refers to major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression. Although MDD is more severe than PDD, it normally lasts less time than an episode of major depressive disorder.

MDD, on the other hand, can return or reoccur if it is not treated.

There are numerous characteristics that may enhance the likelihood of MDD recurrence in female twins, according to a 2015 study.

  • Psychiatric history
  • Family history
  • Adverse life events, both early and recent
  • Being unmarried
  • Financial difficulties
  • Problems with friends

Depression symptoms

Because symptoms might interfere with your ability to function, it can be challenging to complete everyday activities if you have MDD.

Among the symptoms are:

  • Prolonged depressed mood
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Unintended weight fluctuations
  • Sleep changes
  • Restlessness
  • Psychomotor impairment
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in most activities
  • Thoughts of death or dying

Dysthymia is less prevalent than MDD. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed than men.

People who are more likely to be diagnosed with MDD are:

  • Lacking close, interpersonal relationships
  • Divorced
  • Separated
  • Widowed
  • Living with other mental health conditions

Major depressive episodes were most common in those aged 18–25 and those who reported belonging to two or more races in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The differences between dysthymia and depression

Despite the shared symptoms between PDD and MDD, there are some crucial differences.                 

Difference between dysthymia and depression
Difference between dysthymia and depression


Mental health providers utilise numerous tools and information to identify depressed illnesses.

They’ll ask you questions about your past and likely give you a mental health questionnaire. Then, doctors often compare your answers to the criteria listed in the DSM-5.


You must be depressed in order to be diagnosed with PDD:

  • for most of the day
  • for more days than they feel well
  • for 2 years or more

For the duration of the two-year timeframe, you wouldn’t experience a symptom-free period lasting longer than two months.

At least two of the following are required:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep disruption (too much or too little sleep)
  • Appetite changes (over or under eating)
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Difficulty making decisions or poor concentration


To be diagnosed with MDD, you must have five of the following symptoms:

  • Depressed mood for most of the day
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Noticeable loss of interest in or enjoyment of most activities
  • Increased or decreased physical movement
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • These signs must last at least 2 weeks, and one of them must be a depressed mood or loss of pleasure or interest.

In order to rule out other conditions, a doctor may ask you questions about your medical history. If your symptoms aren’t related to substance use or another medical problem, they’ll look into whether you’ve had previous experiences of mania or hypomania.


A person suffering from dysthymia or serious depression may have difficulty concentrating at work or school or maintaining close personal relationships. You may become physically ill as a result of symptoms that prevent you from properly caring for yourself.

The symptoms of MDD are more severe, but they pass more quickly than those of PDD, which last for a longer period of time.


There is a lot of overlap between the treatment of MDD and PDD. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor will recommend a course of action.

Psychotherapy is frequently the first-line treatment for moderate depression. In the case of mild to moderate depression, your doctor may suggest medication in addition to counseling. A mental health crisis is more likely to occur in someone with severe symptoms, such as suicidal thoughts.

Studies in 2019 show that therapy works in roughly 48% of cases with mild to moderate depression.

This research looked at the following types of therapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Behavioral activation
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy

If depression is not improved after around six weeks of treatment, your doctor may recommend an alternative therapy or prescription.

There are numerous antidepressant kinds available. Typical examples include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including citalopram (Celexa) and sertraline (Zoloft)
    serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and venlafaxine (Effexor)
  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron)

Depending on the prescription medication, it may take up to several weeks for the drug to take effect. Most physicians will begin with a low dose and progressively raise it as necessary.

Other types of depression

The DSM-5 lists several other types of depressive disorders, including:

  • Depressive disorder due to another medical condition
  • Unspecified depressive disorder
  • Substance or medication-induced depressive disorder
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

Next steps

There are two types of depressive disorders, dysthymia, and severe depression, that can have a negative impact on your daily life. Both, however, are curable.

Dysthymia, also known as chronic depressive disorder, is a type of depression that lasts for a long time. However, the symptoms are less severe, but they endure a longer period of time. PDD is frequently less severe than major depressive illness.

If you suspect you’re suffering from depression symptoms, you can seek help from a mental health professional. Finding the best treatment for your condition might be made easier with a proper diagnosis. Getting help for mental health issues should always be the first step.



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