Understanding Dysthmyia

Knowing and recognizing the symptoms of dysthymia can help a person prepare for and deal with its effects.

Dysthymia is a Greek word that refers to an ugly state of mind or foul mood [source: Harvard Health Publications]. If you, personally, haven't experienced dysthymia, you've probably known someone who has. They're typically viewed as the kind of people who are negative, cynical and generally no fun to be around. But they're not trying to be the proverbial party poopers: They're dealing with dysthymia, a chronic-but-mild form of depression.

Characterized by its length more than its acuteness, dysthymia is not the same as major depression. The condition begins gradually and lasts for no less than two years. Contrast that with major depression, which is quite severe but may last for as little as two weeks. Because it's milder than major depression, it would be easy to disregard dysthymia as a minor problem. But it can actually have a bigger effect on someone's lifestyle because of its duration, and it can even lead to suicide [source: PubMed Health].

Dysthymia affects a small but significant portion of the general population. Research indicates that about 6 percent of Americans have dealt with it at some point in their lives, and that about 3 percent have had dysthymia in the last year. While it's different than major depression, if it's not treated it can lead to the more acute condition. This is often referred to as "double depression" [source: PubMed Health].

Family, friends and co-workers may disregard dysthymia as a general case of being cranky or cynical, but it's important to distinguish a personality trait or a temporary mood from something more serious. A person who has long been optimistic and outgoing but becomes sullen and grumpy -- even for a period of years -- could have dysthymia [source: Harvard Health Publications].