Desmond Kaplan MD FAPA

Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry

1777 Reisterstown Road, Suite 50
 Baltimore, MD 21208


Dysthymia is a chronic but less severe form of depression. Symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of major depression but may be less intense. Dysthymia symptoms can last over two years, but do not usually limit a person's lifestyle. Individuals who suffer from dysthymia may sometimes experience periods of major depression that subside over time. Dysthymia often begins in young adulthood and seems to be more common in women.

Causes of Dysthymia

The exact cause of dysthymia is unknown, however it is believed to be caused by similar factors as major depression, and can sometimes be triggered by a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one, divorce, emotional or financial stress, or childhood trauma. Other factors that may contribute to dysthymia include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress
  • Heredity
  • Chemical imbalances or changes within the brain

Symptoms of Dysthymia

The symptoms of dysthymia are often similar to those of depression but are usually not as intense. Symptoms may include an overall feeling of sadness or emptiness and a loss of interest in daily activities. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling helpless or worthless
  • Fatigue
  • Avoidance of social activities
  • Low self-esteem
  • Change in appetite
  • Trouble concentrating

Diagnosis of Dysthymia

To diagnose dysthymia, a doctor will conduct a full physical examination and a review of all symptoms. Blood and urine tests may also be performed to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to the depression. A full psychological evaluation is also performed to make a proper diagnosis and create a treatment plan.

Treatment of Dysthymia

Dysthymia is typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy and antidepressant medication. Antidepressants help to alter the brain chemistry to improve mood. Psychotherapy, in the form of therapy or counseling, aims to treat depression by by teaching the individual new ways of thinking and behaving, and changing habits that may contribute to depression. Support groups can also be an effective form of additional therapy to help people cope with effects of dysthymia.

Additional Resources