Dysthymia is a chronic, or longer lasting, form of depression. It tends to begin early in life and have an unrelenting course. Dysthymia becomes so intertwined with a person’s self-concept or personality that the individual may be misidentified as “neurotic” (resulting from unresolved early conflicts expressed through unconscious personality defenses or characterologic disorders). Indeed, the onset of dysthymia in childhood or adolescence undoubtedly affects personality development and coping styles, particularly prompting passive, avoidant, and dependent “traits.” To avoid the negative connotations associated with the terms “neurotic” and “characterologic,” the term “dysthymia” is used in DSM-IV as a descriptive, or atheoretical, diagnosis for a chronic form of depression. Affecting about 2 percent of the adult population in 1 year, dysthymia is longer in duration than Major Depression in that it lasts at least 2 years for adults and 1 year for children. Dysthymic disorder is associated with higher rates of substance abuse and are susceptible to major depression. However, unlike major depressive episodes, dysthymia rarely goes away spontaneously. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with dysthymia as men.
An excerpt from Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
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