Hello! I’m back again with another addition to Dysthymia 101. This time I’ll be discussing a few misconceptions regarding dysthymia. Because dysthymia is relatively unheard of in today’s society, it carries with it many misconceptions and false information. These are just five of the most common things I hear related to dysthymia that aren’t necessarily accurate.
1. Dysthymia is just a phase people can grow out of.
I hear this misconception fairly often. This is mainly due to the fact that many people who are diagnosed with dysthymia are diagnosed before the age of 18. For example, in a study conducted in 1999, out of 340 patients meeting the qualifications for dysthymia, 73% of them were early onset. This means that often, the early diagnosis coincides with general ‘teenage blues’. It’s easy for parents, or anyone else for that matter, to get confused between the two. This can even lead to many teens not being diagnosed at all, because parents or guardians may simply believe that their child is going through a common phase of growing up. However, while angsty adolescent behaviour eventually fades over time, the very nature of dysthymia is chronic. Concerned parents should be on the lookout for signs that common teenage behaviour is getting out of hand. Examples of these can include a dramatic change in sleep and eating patterns, a loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed, and severe withdrawal from social activities.
2. People with dysthymia are just pessimistic.
Dysthymia is often thought to be synonymous with a pessimistic attitude, or a bleak outlook on life. Even those with dysthymia hold this belief for themselves. As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the main reasons people avoid getting help for dysthymia is that they believe this pessimism is simply a part of their personality. However, this isn’t the case. While most people with dysthymia are bleak regarding their outlook on life, this usually only applies to their life only. Using myself as an example, I am very optimistic around my friends, and will go out of my way to help them see the positives of a situation. However, when it comes to my own life, whenever a hurdle or inconvenience appears, I will lose hope almost immediately. This is also the case with many other mental illnesses. We are far kinder to our friends and are much more strict on ourselves.
3. Because dysthymia is a milder form of depression, it’s not a big deal.
To be entirely honest, even I’ve told myself this many times as an excuse to not seek help, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But just because dysthymia is defined as a ‘milder’ form of depression doesn’t make it any less painful, or any less serious. People with the disorder rarely experience relief from depression, unlike some other forms where a depressive episode may only last a few weeks to a month. Dysthymia also has a high co-morbidity rate. At least 75% of patients with dysthymia also deal with other mental or physical illnesses and disorders. Dealing with one mental illness is difficult enough, let alone several. So while dysthymia may be considered less severe, that doesn’t make it any less important.
4. There is no treatment for dysthymia.
One ‘fun’ characteristic about dysthymia is that it’s very treatment-resistant. It’s also known as persistent depressive disorder for a reason! However, despite this fact, dysthymia can be treated and managed, just like any other form of depression. This may be through different medications, therapy, or a combination of both. Due to the co-morbid nature of dysthymia, therapy and medication can also help out with any other illnesses a person may have. It’s important to keep in mind that dysthymia won’t suddenly go away when given medication and therapy and reveal a sunny demeanor. It can, however, help someone with dysthymia feel less depressed day-to-day than they did before, and make it easier to manage the disorder. Also like other forms of mental illness, not everyone is the same, and will have varied responses to different treatments. There is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for any mental illness.
5. People with dysthymia aren’t fun to be around.
This is more of a misconception regarding depression as a whole. Even with all of the mental health activism and awareness going on these days, stereotypes surrounding different types of mental illnesses still wildly persist. People are often surprised when I tell them that I have depression, mainly because I try to be funny and use humour to feel more comfortable in social situations. This is fairly common among people with mood disorders. Many people with depression have a great sense of humour! This point can also be proven by the fact that many comedians, and successful ones at that, often suffer from depression. In terms of dysthymia specifically, a trusted social environment, such as being around friends, family, and other loved ones, can provide a small sense of relief from the monotony that we feel on a daily basis. So please don’t count us out because we have depression; we love to laugh and have fun as much as everyone else.
About Maddie Katz
Maddie Katz is a recent college graduate. Her interest in mental health started when she was diagnosed in high school. Her other interests lie in writing, music, theatre, and cats.