For the past 60 years, May has been deemed as Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America. During this month, more focus is placed on mental health issues to raise public awareness and understanding. In 2013, Mental Health America’s focus is on Mental Health Wellness – getting and keeping well mentally. As such, I wanted to offer my readers more awareness about an often overlooked form of depression that can go undiagnosed in many people. Its symptoms can be very subtle and not raise very many glaring red flags. It can often just feel like you chronically have a low mood with more intense bad days here and there. The disorder is called dysthymia and you’ll want to learn if you, or someone you love, could have it and be suffering in silence.
Dysthymia – Do You Have This Form of Depression?
Dysthymia is a mild, yet chronic, form of depression. It can be present since childhood (early dysthymia) in many people and is often mistaken as a person’s particular personality trait. Dysthymics are often characterized as having a “gloomy” personality. It can also come on later in life (late dysthymia) after certain stressful events, especially a series of them.
Dysthymia can have different causes – and symptoms – for different people. But, the basic characterization of dysthymia is that it is a condition that interferes with your ability to function successfully and enjoy anything about your life.
For example, you might lose interest in usual, everyday activities; feel hopeless about where your life is or where it’s going; feel unproductive; have a low sense of self-esteem; have an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. Other people often see dysthymic people as being overly critical of others, constant complaining/ blaming, and seem to have no ability to have fun.
Most of us would recognize these as feelings that you wouldn’t want to experience, even occasionally. Yet, people with dysthymia often live with these feelings on an everyday basis. Some other symptoms of dysthymia can include:
- Fatigue and general lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Chronic irritability or excessive anger
- Avoidance of friends, family – inability to be upbeat even on happy occasions.
- Poor eating habits – either not enough or too much
- Poor sleep habits – too much or not enough
- Substance abuse
What Causes Dysthymia?
Many different events can trigger the onset of dysthymia. In general, there are 3 basic categories of things that can aggravate dysthymia.
1. Genetic: A close blood relative may have suffered from the disorder and you may have inherited that gene as well.
2. Environment: Traumatic events, or series of them, may have occurred in your childhood or later in life to trigger dysthymia. Keep in mind, though, that a “traumatic event” doesn’t have to mean a life-threatening event. It can also be the loss of a loved one, sudden financial loss that cascades into the loss of a home or other material possessions. Also, the uncertainty of a serious health condition – cancer, heart attack, etc.
3. Biochemical: Brain chemical imbalances can also play a role in chronic dysthymia. Diabetics, in general, tend to have lower brain serotonin levels than non-diabetics and are prone to several of the same symptoms of dysthymia – irritability, anger outbursts, chronic low mood and lethargy.
Treatment of Dysthymia
Properly diagnosing dysthymia is crucial to reclaiming your life. Ignoring dysthymia symptoms, leaving it undiagnosed and untreated, can lead to more serious mental health issues like social isolation, inability to work productively, substance abuse, and even suicidal behavior. Diagnosis will likely include questions to look for major depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder; lab tests to look for biochemical causes and a physical exam to look for any contributing conditions.
To be diagnosed with dysthymia, you will have to meet the criteria in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) created by the American Psychiatric Association. The common treatment for dysthymia is often an initial, short course of antidepressants, serotonin brain chemical regulators. Yet, regular aerobic exercise (walking, bicycling, running, swimming) is often very effective in relieving some symptoms of dysthymia as well.
If you have 2 or more of the above symptoms of dysthymia on a more than a once in a while basis, you should seek help from a mental health professional. Try getting regular physical exercise in your daily routine, eat an optimal diet with adequate carbohydrates to avoid serotonin depletion, avoid isolation by visiting with friends or family, and stay away from substance use/abuse that can worsen your condition.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
May is Mental Health Month, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/
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