The primary forms of treatment for dysthymia are medication and psychotherapy. Lifestyle changes may also help individuals with dysthymia cope with their symptoms.
Due to the ongoing symptoms of dysthymia, people may feel like consistent sadness is part of life. However, with the right treatment, people living with dysthymia can find relief from their symptoms. Treatment may vary depending on the severity of their condition. However, the two primary forms of treatment for dysthymia are medication and different types of psychotherapy. Lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques are also recommended to improve the daily lives of people with dysthymia.
Medication is an effective, evidence-based treatment option for dysthymia. The types of medications most commonly used in the treatment of persistent depressive disorder include selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors.
The most common antidepressants prescribed to people with depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work to improve the way a patient’s brain chemistry affects their mood or stress. These medications can ease symptoms of dysthymia and are relatively safe. SSRIs typically cause fewer side effects than other antidepressants on the market. However, they are slow acting, so the patients usually don’t see changes until the drug has been taken for a week or two. It is common for a patient to try several different types of antidepressant medications before finding the one that has manageable side effects and also works well with their specific symptoms.
Tricyclic antidepressants or TCAs are some of the first antidepressants developed. They are effective, but they generally have harsher side effects than other antidepressants. Because each medication affects different people in diverse ways, these medications are still prescribed if they are a good option for that particular patient. In some cases, tricyclic antidepressants for dysthymia relieve symptoms when other treatments have failed.
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are another class of medications that are effective in treating dysthymia. These medications block both serotonin and norepinephrine. SNRIs are also sometimes used to treat other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and chronic pain. When compared to SSRIs, SNRIs are less likely to worsen rapid mood cycling in people with bipolar depression.
Related Topic: SSRI vs SNRI
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a form of treating dysthymia that involves discussing symptoms and how they impact your life. The many benefits to psychotherapy include:
- Crisis and symptom management
- Identifying triggers that contribute to dysthymia
- Coping strategies to manage triggers
- Recognizing negative beliefs and replacing them with positive ones
- Gaining problem-solving skills
- Exploring ways to build positive relationships with others
- Improving self-esteem
- Learning to set and attain personal goals
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for dysthymia can help a person understand that their brain is sending false messages, causing overwhelming unhappiness. Through CBT, the patient can learn to recognize self-defeating messages and respond to them in new ways. This type of therapy should be generally conducted with respect to the client’s pace and level of functioning.
Couple and family counseling can be helpful for the patient as well as their loved ones. Through this form of therapy, the friends and family members of people living with dysthymia can better understand their loved one’s symptoms and work toward creating mutually supportive relationships with them.
Much of the suffering associated with dysthymia is a result of feeling isolated. Group therapy allows the patient to recognize that they are not alone and that other people understand their struggles and challenges. They may learn about new ways to cope with their symptoms from other people in the group. By undergoing therapy in a group setting, the patient can also receive encouragement and motivation from other group members.
Other Coping Skills
Any treatment plan for dysthymia should include healthy lifestyle changes. These changes should aim to improve a person’s overall mental and physical health to alleviate symptoms. Some recommended lifestyle changes include:
- Writing in a Journal. Journaling can help improve a person’s mood by allowing them to explore and express pain, anger, fear or other emotions in writing.
- Practicing Relaxation Techniques. Relaxation can help the body produce more serotonin, improving mood and overall well-being. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga and tai chi are some examples of relaxation techniques.
- Exercising. Walking, jogging, swimming or participating in other forms of exercise can help improve a wide range of mental health conditions, including dysthymia.
Treating Dysthymia and Co-Occurring Disorders
Symptoms of dysthymia are commonly concealed by other medical illnesses, resulting in treatment that addresses these symptoms but not the underlying depression. Dysthymia is not a typical emotional response to another illness; in many cases, it’s the root cause of other illnesses. For any medical intervention to be effective, it must treat all co-occurring physical and mental health conditions that a person has simultaneously.
Dual diagnosis treatment is particularly important if a person lives with co-occurring dysthymia and addiction. If you think you or your loved one may have co-occurring dysthymia and substance use disorder, it’s crucial that you seek treatment from a reputable center like The Recovery Village. The Recovery Village has locations across the country staffed with mental health professionals who have experience working with patients who have co-existing disorders. Reach out to a representative today for more information.
Arean, P., Cook, B. “Psychotherapy and combined psychotherapy/pharmacotherapy for late life depression” Biological Psychiatry Volume 52, Issue 3, August 2002. Accessed December 13, 2018
Williams, John, Barrett, James, Oxman, Tom, et al. “Treatment of Dysthymia and Minor Depress[…]rial in Older Adults.”JAMA, September 27, 2000. Accessed March 13, 2019.
Barret, James, et al. “Treatment of Dysthymia and Minor Depression in Primary Care.” Journal of Family Practice, May 2001, p. 405. Accessed 14 Dec. 2018.
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