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Depression and Dysthymia: What is the Difference?

June 19, 2019

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:


  •    Weight loss or weight gain
  •    Increased or decreased appetite
  •    Excessive sleep or lack of sleep
  •    Slowed thought process or physical activity (as observed by others)
  •    Increased fatigue or decreased energy
  •    Difficulty concentrating
  •    Experiencing significant guilt and worthlessness
  •    Recurrent thoughts of death, or suicide


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.

Symptoms: Sleep, Interest, Guilt

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.



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.



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.

Doctor Profile

Benjamin Hamburger, Psy.D.

Clinical Psychologist

Licensed clinical psychologist in New York and California.
Provides individual, group and couples psychotherapy for children (and their parents), adolescents, and adults.
Specializes in working with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety and ADHD.

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