Do you ever feel down or more than "just tired"? Have you ever felt your life is not what you expected? Do you wish you could exchange your problems with someone else?
You may be experiencing mild depression, often known as dysthymia. The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that 10 percent of Americans admit to some degree of chronic mood disturbance that is suggestive of depression or dysthymia.
Most of us can easily recognize the signs of major depression: severely depressed mood, excessive alcohol or drug use, suicidal thoughts and withdrawal from life. But often, the signs of mild depression go overlooked or are labeled as "just having a bad week."
Dysthymia has been defined as a mood disorder with many indicators similar to depression, but with fewer severe and longer lasting symptoms. Numerous medical studies have suggested that many individuals experience dysthymia at some point in their lives and go undiagnosed. Many simply "cowboy up" or "push through the pain." Lack of proper diagnosis and treatment has been shown to have a direct impact on work productivity and personal relationships and affect overall health.
The diagnosis of dysthymia as defined by the American Psychiatric Association is: withdrawal from pleasurable activities, low energy or motivation, changes in appetite and sleep and feelings of hopelessness or pessimism. These symptoms must be present for two years and not associated with major depression or substance abuse. Recent studies also suggest that dysthymia in some individuals may be a life-long, genetic-based condition that affects generations of families.
Over the years I have treated many individuals with dysthymia. Many of them report that they are just not as happy as they should be. Sometimes they say, "I have no reason to be down, but I just don't feel right." Many complain of aching all over and "no one can figure out why."
Parents may notice changes in their children's interest in hobbies or school performance. Spouses may note a decrease in their partner's libido, energy or motivation.
There are a number of medical conditions that can mimic dysthymia, and proper diagnostic steps must be taken to rule out other important medical conditions. But effective treatments are available, and more professionals are recognizing and treating this often-overlooked condition. Unfortunately, the stigma of antidepressant use often prevents many people from seeking treatment. Many patients have responded to my diagnosis by stating, "I am not crazy, and I don't want Prozac."
So, are there other treatments if you feel you may have dysthymia? You should always discuss these with your health-care professional, but here are some useful first steps:
* Evaluate your use of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, chocolate (yes, chocolate for me is comfort food) and other substances.
* Try a new hobby or adventure. Reinvent or return to previous hobbies you once enjoyed.
* Talk to someone. Speak with a close friend or spiritual advisor. Listen carefully to their suggestions.
* Get outside. There are countless trails, parks, streams and unbelievable beauty within minutes of our homes.
* Connect with your spiritual side. This may involve an organized religion or communing with your higher source.
Perhaps the most important step is for each of us to evaluate our personal relationships. If you are having issues with a family member, co-worker or friend, resolve them! Use kind but mature methods, where possible, to work out these conflicts that come into all our lives.
Each of us at times has signs and symptoms of dysthymia. If they continue, seek proper medical treatment to help you regain happiness.
Dr. Glen Biddulph sees patients at Tanner Clinic's Layton location. He is board certified in internal medicine.