The MIT Braintrust Center for Neurological Disorder Information

Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymic disorder is a chronic mood disorder similar to mild depression, although it generally persists for a longer period of time.  The disorder is also known as dysthymia and neurotic depression, and it affects approximately 5% of the population.  Patients are generally characterized as being sad or "down in the dumps" fairly consistently over a period of at least two years.  Other associated symptoms include poor concentration, insomnia (or excessive sleeping), lack of appetite, extreme despair and guilt, monotonous speech, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts.

 Part 1: General Information
 Part 2: Self-Help
 Part 3: Further Information

I. General Information

Dysthymic disorder is not necessarily as disabling as depression.  Unlike depression, people with dysthymia do not require hospitalization.  Most patients are generally functional in society, but generally display poor performances on the job or at school.
Dysthymic disorder can occur at any stage of life, but it appears somewhat more often during transitional periods (e.g., puberty or during mid-life crises).  Though it is not exactly known what exactly causes dysthmic disorder, approximately 75% of cases are accompanied by physiologoical disorders.  However, this disorder is generally diagnosed as being independent from any physical infirmity; i.e., dysthymia is understood to be completely psychological in nature.  Unfortunately, approximately half of all dysthymia cases deteriorate into full blown depression.
Fortunately, dysthymia patients almost always recover in time.  Different types of treatments involve the administering of anti-depressant drugs, cognitive therapy, and behavioral therapy.  Cognitive therapy is a technique where patients learn to alter demoralizing, self-defeating thoughts.  Behavioral therapy is employed to unlearn the feeling of helplessness that dysthymic disorder patients often learn.  Often, support and reassurance from a patient's loved ones play an instrumental role in keeping a patient's spirits up.  However, treatment can take longer periods of time.  One study determined the average case of dysthymia lasts five and a half years.

II. Self-help

As dysthymic disorder bears such a resemblance to depression, which is better known, very few support groups exist specifically for dysthymic disorder patients.  However, the numerous depression support groups can help patients and their families deal with this disorder:

DRADA (Depression and Related Affective Disorders Assn)
Contact: DRADA, Meyer 3-181 600 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, MD 21287-7381.
Call (410)955-4647 (Baltimore, MD) or (202)955-5800 (Washington, DC)
FAX: (410)614-3241.

National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association
Contact: Contact: NDMDA, 730 N. Franklin, #501, Chicago, IL 60610.
Call 800-826-3632 or (312)642-0049
FAX: (312)642-7243.

National Foundation for Depressive Illness.  P.O. Box 2257 New York, NY 10116
call (212-268-4260) or (800-239-1265)
or on the Internet (

National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association.  730 N. Franklin St. Suite 501, Chicago, Ill. 60610
call (800) 826-3632)
on the Internet (
Makes referrals to local support services and offers a free information package.

National Institute of Mental Health.  5600 Fishers Lane Parklawn Building Rockville, MD 20857
call (800-64-PANIC) or on the Internet (

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).  200 N. Glebe Rd. Arlington, VA 22203-3754
call (800-950-6264) or
on the Internet (
NAMI is a national grass roots organization providing ways for self-help and support organizations to individuals and families of people with psychologic disorders.

National Mental Health Association.  1021 Prince St. Alexandria, VA 22314-2971
call (800-969-6642)
or on the Internet (
This organizations will give the names and numbers of regional chapters and provides information on 200 mental health topics.

III. Further Information

There are several books on the market that can serve as an explanatory guide about dysthymic disorder:

_Dysthymia and the Spectrum of Chronic Depression_, by HS Akiskal and GB Cassano (Guilford Press, 1997).

_Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Dysthymic Disorder_, by JC Markowitz (American Psychiatric Press, 1998).

_Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Depression_, by JH Kocsis and DN Klein (Guilford Press, 1995). (Note: somewhat physician oriented)

There are several Internet websites that contain more useful information about symptoms and treatments of dysthymia: contains links to info on description, diagnosis, treatment, research, booklets, and magazine articles concerning dysthymia

http://depression/ contains links to online support groups and some dysthymia specific info under symptoms.  Emotions Anonymous.  PO Box 4245 St. Paul, MN 55104 call (612-647-9712) or on the Internet  Offers a 12-step program to help people experiencing emotional difficulties. Has 1,400 groups worldwide.

 MIT Braintrust Center for Neurological Disorder Information