Medically reviewed by Susan Vachon, PA-C on February 4, 2022
Do you feel like you’re in a rut that you just can’t get out of? Has this feeling been going on for a long time — maybe even years? It’s possible that you could have a persistent depressive disorder. Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder is when you have mild depressive symptoms for a long span of time.
While many people have heard of major depression, persistent depressive disorder sometimes flies under the radar. If you’ve never heard of this condition, here are the most important things to know about it.
1. Persistent Depressive Disorder Isn’t as Severe as Major Depression
There is some good news for people with persistent depressive disorder. Its symptoms typically aren’t as severe as its more well-known cousin, major depression. That said, they’re still not a walk in the park.
Nurx offers prescription treatment for anxiety and depression for as little as $0 in copays or $25 per month without insurance.
You’ll probably notice all the tell-tale signs of depression, like a loss of interest in your daily activities, an unprompted feeling of hopelessness and sadness, and even a complete lack of energy. With major depression, these symptoms would likely be debilitating to the point where it would be hard to get out of bed. However, with persistent depressive disorder, you’ll likely still be able to make it through the day, but it won’t feel great.
Other symptoms you may experience with this condition include problems concentrating or making decisions. It may feel much harder to think than before.
You may also have problems with eating. You may be tempted to eat too much, or you may never feel hungry at all. It varies between patients.
One more final sign of both types of depression is low self-esteem and self-worth. You’ll feel like you’re not a good person, and you may even linger on feelings of guilt over things that happened in the past.
2. Certain Factors Can Increase Your Risk
Unfortunately, some people have a greater risk of developing persistent depressive disorder than others. For example, if you have a close relative with depression or another type of depressive disorder, you’ll have a greater chance of having a persistent depressive disorder. This is likely because there is a genetic component to depression, meaning you can inherit specific genes from family members. However, scientists haven’t totally identified the genes responsible yet.
Suffering a traumatic or stressful life event is another major risk factor for this type of depression. An example of this might include the death of a loved one or a particularly stressful breakup. These events might alter your brain chemistry enough to cause this type of long-term disorder.
Additionally, if you’re already dealing with issues of low self-esteem or harsh self-criticism, it might be easier to develop a persistent depressive disorder. These negative patterns of thought can become chronic and lead to the development of additional symptoms over time.
3. There’s No Medical Test for Persistent Depressive Disorder
Unfortunately, getting diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder isn’t as simple as getting a blood test or answering a few questions. Instead, it’s a diagnosis that a medical provider will need to make after performing an examination, asking you questions about your symptoms, and ruling out other underlying causes.
To get a confirmed diagnosis from a medical professional, your symptoms will likely need to meet some qualifications. First, you’ll need to have been in a mostly depressed mood for at least two years. Your symptoms can come and go during this period — you may feel slightly happier at times, but overall, these periods of relief don’t last more than two months.
In addition, you’ll also need to have two depressive symptoms. They can be any of the ones we mentioned above, but a medical professional can help explain them in more detail to see if they sound like something you’ve experienced.
4. There’s No Preventing Persistent Depressive Disorder — But There Is Treatment
Like many mental health conditions, there’s no foolproof cure or prevention method for persistent depressive disorder. Taking good care of yourself mentally by reducing stress and fostering positive relationships can all help to an extent, but many people will need a more robust form of treatment to feel better.
For most people, that’s a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The medication a medical professional will likely prescribe is an antidepressant. Antidepressants work by altering the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. Neurotransmitters help to send signals between brain cells and are important for proper neural communication.
In particular, most antidepressants work to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. This is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and mood regulation. If your levels are too low, it can lead to many of the depressive symptoms found in this condition.
Psychotherapy is another helpful tool for those with persistent depressive disorder. You’ll talk with a mental health professional and work through some of your emotions to help improve your patterns of thought. Over time, you’ll be able to eliminate negative beliefs and behaviors and identify issues that may be contributing to your depression.
5. There Is Hope for People With Persistent Depressive Disorder
Perhaps the most important thing to know about the persistent depressive disorder is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Though it may feel like your symptoms will never go away, with the proper treatment, you can start enjoying life again.
Persistent depressive disorder is chronic, meaning it’s a long-term disease without a cure. That said, it’s still possible to manage your symptoms to improve your quality of life.
It’s estimated that 1.5% of U.S. adults have had persistent depressive disorder over the last year, with 2.5% experiencing it at some point in their lives. This means you’re not alone in your fight, so stay strong.
Take a Stand Against Persistent Depressive Disorder
After reading this, if you think you might have a persistent depressive disorder, your next step is to speak to a medical professional. They’re the only ones who can confirm your diagnosis and start you on a treatment plan. With the right combination of antidepressants, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, you have a great chance of overcoming your symptoms and feeling like the old you again.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes.