Dysthymia is a mild but long-term form of depression characterized by a chronic low mood that may persist for years.  Adults with dysthymia may feel depressed and sad but have not experienced a major depressive episode in the first two years of experiencing dysthymia. When dysthymia starts before age 21, it's called early-onset dysthymia. When it starts after that, it's called late-onset dysthymia.

Dysthymia Symptoms

Dysthymia may affect children and adults alike, though the indicators vary with age and by individual. In adults, dysthymia’s symptoms include:

  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness

In children, dysthymia may occur in conjunction with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disorders, developmental disabilities, anxiety disorders, or other conditions that affect mood or behavior. Examples of dysthymia symptoms in children include:

  • Irritability
  • Behavior problems
  • Poor school performance
  • Pessimistic attitude
  • Poor social skills
  • Low self-esteem

While it’s normal to occasionally feel sadness or stress, you should seek help if you or your child experiences these symptoms for more than a few months, or if these symptoms begin to interfere with relationships, work or school. If not treated, dysthymia can may lead to major depression, a severe condition that may be accompanied by suicidal thoughts.

Dysthymia and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify and correct the thought patterns that trigger depressive thoughts, sad moods, and low self-esteem. CBT allows you to reduce self-defeating behaviors associated with dysthymia such as negativity, hopelessness and lack of assertiveness by educating you about how the condition affects you and your life. CBT can help you manage depression-related stress and improve your ability to function in work situations, interpersonal settings and social environments.