Major Depressive Disorder Vs. Dysthymia

By Brooke Nichols

Major depressive disorder and dysthymia are mood disorders with symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Outpatient care may be more common for people with dysthymia, whereas symptoms of major depression may require inpatient care to ensure a patient's safety.

Major Depressive Disorder

Symptoms of major depressive disorder include feelings of sadness and emptiness, difficulties getting out of bed, loss of appetite, excessive feelings of guilt, difficulties concentrating, and suicidal thoughts or plans. Major depression is diagnosed when symptoms are present for at least two weeks, have a sudden onset and are significant enough to impact daily functioning.

Dysthymia

Symptoms of dysthymia include feelings of hopelessness; sleeping and eating too much or too little; fatigue; poor concentration; and low self-esteem. These symptoms cause distress but are not as severe as the symptoms of major depression. Dysthymia is a long-term condition and is diagnosed when these symptoms are present nearly every day during a period of two years.

Similarities

The symptoms of major depressive disorder and dysthymia are very similar. Both disorders are characterized by sad mood, loss of pleasure and changes in appetite, sleep and energy. Both disorders can be treated successfully with medication and/or counseling.

Differences

Differences between major depressive disorder and dysthymia are characterized by levels of severity, duration and persistence. For example, the change in mood in major depression occurs nearly every day during a period of two weeks, whereas in dysthymia, the mood disturbance occurs more days than not during a two-year period. Dysthymia may be reported less than major depression, as its symptoms are less severe and easier to live with.

Double Depression

Although not an official diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, double depression is a term used to describe the experience of having a more severe episode of major depression on top of dysthymia. Experiencing depressive symptoms that suddenly become more severe may spur a person to seek treatment.

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