Articles / Depression and Dysthymia: What is the Difference?

Depression and Dysthymia: What is the Difference?

Written by Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.

Reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD | Feb. 23, 2019

What is Major Depressive Disorder (Depression)?

Major Depressive Disorder is a psychological disorder where the individual experiences one or both of the following:

  •    Persistent depressed mood for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks
  •    Diminished interest or pleasure with regards to normal activities every day for at least two weeks.

Also, individuals with Depression may experience some of the following symptoms:

o    Note: if you are having thoughts of suicide, it is important to let someone know who can help you. Here is a hotline you can call if you feel suicidal.

To receive the diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, the symptoms experienced must cause significant impairment in functioning (social, occupational, etc.). Here is a video explaining more about the symptoms of depression.

What is Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)?

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD), formerly known as dysthymia, is a psychological disorder where an individual experiences a depressed mood most of the day for more days than not. In PDD, however, the depressed mood is less severe. The other significant difference between depression and PDD is that dysthymia lasts for at least two years.

Like Depression, individuals with PDD also experience the following symptoms:

  •    Increased or decreased appetite
  •    Excessive sleep or lack of sleep
  •    Increased fatigue or decreased energy
  •    Low self-esteem
  •    Difficulty concentrating
  •    Feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness

Over the two year period, a person with PDD does not experience a period of more than two months without their symptoms. Here is a video explaining further the difference between depression and PDD.

Symptoms: Sleep, Interest, Guilt

What is the difference between depression and dysthymia?

Think of depression as an intense period of deep sadness for a specific amount of time. Someone with depression may experience severe symptoms of sadness, lack of energy, confusion and lack of sleep for most of the day every day for a few weeks, or a month or even a year. But that period will pass.

Persistent depressive disorder is an overall feeling of sadness that may not be as intense as depression but tends to last longer. PDD lasts for two years and is present for more days than it is not. It is also possible to have PDD and have a major depressive episode at the same time. When PDD and Depression co-occur, it is often referred to as double depression.

 

Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymia

I have depression or dysthymia; how do I treat it?

There are multiple ways to treat depression or dysthymia. The first consideration is whether you would like to seek medication or talk therapy. A more conservative approach would be to try therapy first and if that doesn’t work, to find a psychiatrist to discuss medication. Most research shows that the most effective mode of treatment for depression or dysthymia is a combination of medication and talk therapy. Here is a video that explores the decision between medicine and therapy.

Alternative treatments, such as mindfulness, can also be helpful in conjunction with therapy/medication. Mindful meditation can be a great way to become present and aware in the moment and process one’s own emotions. Here are some apps that focus on mindful meditation and other useful tips.

Treatment considerations may be different for depression and dysthymia depending on your presenting symptoms. If it is a more intense depressive episode, therapy may focus on getting you out of bed and doing activities. If it is a longer less severe depression, treatment may focus on cognitive or big picture factors to your depression.

Conclusion

Depression is a more acute and severe bout of sadness that can last as short as two weeks. PDD (or dysthymia) is a more chronic and less severe version of depression that lasts a minimum of two years. An individual with PDD can experience a major depressive episode at the same time, which is referred to as double depression. Both PDD and depression are treatable by therapy, medication or both. If you feel you are suffering from either PDD or depression, please contact a mental health professional to learn more about your treatment options.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is intended to be used for informational purposes only. This blog should not be used for therapy purposes and does not constitute or establish a doctor/patient relationship. This website offers information and links to helpful resources, however, is not intended to be considered treatment.

Works Cited:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Featured Apps for Depression

Pacifica

Pacifica

This highly rated app uses meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy to manage...

Read More...
Stop, Breathe, and Think

Stop, Breathe, and Think

The name summarizes almost everything the app aims to offer you. Stop, Breathe & Think...

Read More...
Calm

Calm

As the name suggests, the Calm app is designed to help the user calm down and relax...

Read More...
Breathe2Relax

Breathe2Relax

Just as illustrated in the name, Breath2Relax teaches you how to use deep breathing exercises to...

Read More...
Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM)

Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM)

Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM) encourages you to develop different ways of dealing with...

Read More...
Relax Melodies

Relax Melodies

Sleep deprivation is a major source of stress. Relax Melodies helps you fight stress-related insomnia...

Read More...
MoodKit

MoodKit

MoodKit is based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Users gain access to over...

Read More...
TalkLife

TalkLife

TalkLife is simple to use. It’s basically an online community where members can easily find...

Read More...
Daylio

Daylio

This app’s functionality is simple, fun, and easy to use for people of all ages and...

Read More...
Headspace

Headspace

Headspace is one of the most comprehensive apps available for meditation and mindfulness...

Read More...
7 Cups

7 Cups

If you’re searching for an app that has the numbers to back its claims for assistance with symptoms of depression, look no further than 7 Cups.

Read More...
Moodpath

Moodpath

If you’re concerned about your mental health, download the Moodpath app to test yourself before you acquire a clinical diagnosis.

Read More...
Happify

Happify

Instead of letting your emotions control you, wouldn’t you rather learn to control your emotions? Happify is an app that gives you the essential

Read More...
Moodnotes

Moodnotes

If you find it hard to explain the symptoms you feel when dealing with depression, learn to verbalize your feeling through Moodnotes.

Read More...
SuperBetter

SuperBetter

One way to fight depression is to engage in simple activities to promote healthy habit building. This is the idea behind SuperBetter.

Read More...
The Sims FreePlay

The Sims FreePlay

While many children and adults alike have enjoyed the creative gameplay of The Sims series for years, the new Sims FreePlay has exhibited traits

Read More...
Youper

Youper

On the website, Youper claims that it can help you feel less anxious, less stressed, and less blue. In terms of improvement,the app boasts it can

Read More...
Talkspace

Talkspace

Who better than an Olympian to testify to the benefits of a therapeutic app for depression? That’s right, Michael Phelps admitted to struggling

Read More...
Moment

Moment

If you’re like many, you may find using your phone too often is taking way from your ability to be engaged in the real world. Social media is a

Read More...

Featured Depression Clinical Trials and Studies

Major Depressive Disorder Research Study – Science 37

Major Depressive Disorder Research Study – Science 37

Depression can frequently make you feel sad or anxious. If it's something you're dealing with now or have in the past, you're not alone.
Read More...

Efficacy of an Online Program for the Treatment of Mild and Moderate Depression

Efficacy of an Online Program for the Treatment of Mild ...

Major depression (MD) is a disease with a great impact on people´s functioning and is the second leading cause of disability worldwide.
Read More...

A Family Depression Prevention Program (FDP)

A Family Depression Prevention Program (FDP)

Depression is a major public health problem affecting over 15 million U.S. adults annually and is especially prevalent in those of parenting age.
Read More...

Brief CBT for the Treatment of Depression During Inpatient Hospitalization

Brief CBT for the Treatment of Depression During ...

Participants assigned to the CBT condition will receive the usual standard of care during an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
Read More...

Set Your Goal: Engaging Go/No-Go Active Learning

Set Your Goal: Engaging Go/No-Go Active Learning

Depression and anxiety are the largest contributors to disease and disability, affecting around 300 million people. This research study
Read More...

Brain Imaging Study on Teen Depression

Brain Imaging Study on Teen Depression

Our clinical research aims to better understand brain functioning and emotion regulation, with the goal of improving therapies designed to
Read More...

A Randomized, Double-blind, Active-controlled Trial to Assess the Efficacy and Safety of AXS-05 Administered Orally to Subjects with Treatment Resistant Major Depressive Disorder

A Randomized, Double-blind, Active-controlled Trial to ...

This is a study looking at how safe and effective the investigational drug (AXS-05) is in treating patients who have been diagnosed with major
Read More...

Depression Self-Help Books