19 February 2019
Getting more sleep can improve the mood of someone suffering from dysthymia. Photo: Xinhua
Getting more sleep can improve the mood of someone suffering from dysthymia. Photo: Xinhua

Don’t underestimate chronic mild depression

Dysthymia is a mild but persistent form of depressive disorder with fewer symptoms than major depression.

Those who suffer from dysthymia have continuous or recurrent depressed mood, loss of interest, growing despair, low energy and low self-esteem.

These negative feelings would greatly hinder them from interacting with other people in school, at work, and in other daily activities.

Signs and symptoms of mild chronic depression are largely the same as those of major depression but less intense.

However, since patients would often have difficulty in getting enjoyment out of life even during happy moments, they are described as moody, grumpy and boring.

“Double depression” might occur when an individual suffering from mild chronic depression falls into a major depressive state.

In fact, over half of the people with worsening symptoms of dysthymia could later suffer from major depression.

While major depression is episodic, dysthymia persists in patients over time.

Patients, especially those who have the condition at an early age, might mistakenly assume that their prevailing mood is part of their personality.

As a result, they might be less willing to talk about their condition with doctors, family and friends.

The exact cause of dysthymia is unknown. However, as in major depression, a cluster of factors could combine to trigger the medical condition.

Possible causes would be biochemical changes in the brain, certain genetic traits, and major life events.

Individuals could experience the onset of major depression during their childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.

Factors that could increase the risks for a person to fall into the illness include having a family history of depressive disorder, undergoing traumatic and stressful events (the loss of a family member or huge financial losses), having certain personality traits (low self-esteem, over-dependence on other people, perfectionist attitude or pessimism) and suffering from other mental health disorders such as personality disorders.

Dysthymia could also cause serious harm. Not only do patients lose interest in everyday life, they also constantly feel upset, empty, regretful and in despair.

Physically they could feel fatigue or encounter mental slumps.

Psychologically they could experience low self-esteem and poorer attention span, become picky, indecisive, easily irritated, extremely angry, less active, inefficient and unproductive.

They also tend to avoid social activities, experience loss of appetite or indulge overeating, and have sleeping problems.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 13.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Fellow of the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists

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