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Not Depression - Maybe Dysthymia

Dysthymia might be an illness with which you are not familiar. Dysthymia, or chronic depression, has usually milder symptoms than clinical (or major) depression. It usually lasts for approximately two years, but can last much longer.

Many, if not most, cases of dysthymia are never diagnosed because the symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses or personality disorders. For instance, someone who might be hypercritical might be seen as someone with an unpleasant personality, when in reality, she might be suffering from dysthymia.

The symptoms of dysthymia are basically the same as those of clinical depression, but on a milder scale. Symptoms include sadness, hopelessness, lack of interest, fatigue, isolating oneself, anger, and low self-esteem. Children may be irritable and do poorly in school.

As with depression, exact causes are unknown, but many circumstances can increase the risk for dysthymia such as having a family history of depression or dysthymia, or experiencing stressful and/or painful life events.

Also as with depression, if dysthymia is suspected, your doctor might run tests to rule out any physical illnesses that could be causing your symptoms. Once physical illnesses are ruled out, your doctor might suggest that you speak with a mental health professional, or therapist.

Aside from counseling, dysthymia is treated the same way as clinical depression-—with antidepressants. Rather than antidepressants, which have only slightly higher efficacy than placebo, I suggest that you try natural methods of treatment including the following:

• Exercise. Don’t tell me about your sore foot. There are lots of exercises you can do sitting in your favorite chair, or even lying on the floor. For instance, leg lifts, crunches, punches, etc.

• Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol does not make you happy. It is a central nervous system depressant, and the term “depressant” isn’t just coincidence.

• Eat a healthy, balanced diet. A half-gallon of ice cream is not acceptable as a meal just because it’s considered a dairy product. Reduce or eliminate red meat, eat some fish and some green and red veggies.

• Get some reasonable sun exposure. Contrary to what we’ve been told for years, the sun is not deadly. I’ve heard that there is no safe sun exposure, but that’s just not true, according to Dr. William C. Douglass II, MD. Sun is our best source for vitamin D, and limited exposure to the sun is not only not lethal, but it is healthy. By limited exposure, I don’t mean four hours, though. I mean approximately 15 minutes a day—-maybe a bit less for fair skin, and a little more for darker skin. And sunscreen prevents vitamin D production, so don’t use it. (You won’t burn in only 15 minutes!)

• Try taking SAMe, St. John’s Wort, and Omega-3 fatty acids, but only after consulting your doctor.

• Avoid stressful and upsetting situations. Especially during the holidays, family gatherings can be very stressful and painful, so either avoid them altogether, or maybe go visit the parents and grandparents during times when the others won’t be there.

• Seek “up” people. Spend time with people who have positive attitudes—-they sometimes seem to “rub off!”

• Delegate. Sometimes we obligate ourselves beyond what is comfortable for us to do. Life is difficult enough when just trying to cope with what is put on our own plates, so if you can get out of doing some of the things you normally do, then get out of it. Delegate household chores to others, or maybe let some of them slide. I mean, will the world end if the towels are not folded tonight?

• Journal. Keeping a journal has been a very helpful tool for me. Sometimes reading over our own words helps us to sort out difficult or stressful situations.

• Find support. If you’re dealing with a specific issue, look for a support group related to your issue. If you can’t find one in your area, you might find an online group, which can also be very helpful.

• Go to your happy place. We all have things we enjoy doing, but when we feel down, we sometimes avoid doing anything. Get up off the couch, and get busy. Go for a walk, go to the beach, go to a park and swing up into the clouds like you did when you were a kid! If those things aren’t possible, you can go to a happy place in your mind. Close your eyes and concentrate on whatever it is that makes you feel peaceful and content. It can be almost as good as actually being there.

If you’ve been feeling down for longer than you think you should, or if you feel sad for an extended period of time with no apparent reason, talk to your doctor or a psychologist or psychiatrist. If it isn’t clinical depression, it could be dysthymia, and it can be treated. Try my suggestions, but if you’re still feeling down, give your doctor a call.



Dr. William Campbell Douglass II, MD. douglassreport.com. The Douglass Report, 1994-2012.

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