The mystery of dysthymia

Discovering dysthymia

Today I was talking with one of my students and she asked me "How are you today?" I said what I usually say "Average." She said "Well, that's not very good." And I said "doesn't everyone feel average every day? Isn't that what average means?" So she said "shouldn't you try to appear cheerful all the time?" 

I said "I have never believed in pretending that I'm something I'm not. Sometimes I am up, sometimes I am down, but most of the time I'm just average." And then she said to me "Unless you tell yourself that you're feeling great you are going to stay that way all day." So I asked her why she felt that she had to try to boost how she feels all day. She said "Well, I woke up this morning feeling very grumpy, I really don't want to feel like that all day."

And I asked her if she felt grumpy a lot. She agreed that she felt grumpy sometimes. I asked her how well she slept. She told me that she sleeps badly. My psychology training began to get interested. I asked "would you say your mind was always busy?"

"Oh yes, always".

"Do you often get irritated with other people? Like when they don't do things you think they should do."

"Oh yes, too much. In fact my sisters were telling me at the weekend that I'm always snapping at them. They think I'm just bad tempered all the time. I don't think there's anything wrong with me."

Discussing the symptoms

At this point I realised I was talking to someone with a form of depression, who was totally unaware that she had it. I asked a few more questions and every one of them built up a picture of someone who sleeps badly, eats badly, can't concentrate, has a busy mind, gets down a lot and somehow just can't get around to doing her studies. I explained to her, gently, and I thought she actually has a form of depression. We discussed the symptoms of dysthymia back-and-forth and once she had got over the initial shock, she seemed to accept it. In fact she seemed quite relieved. It was as if that at last she had found something  which explained all the different aspects of her behaviour.

We talked about dysthymia and its effect on day-to-day life for most people. She very rapidly realised that she in fact had all the symptoms. And not only that, she could identify them clearly in a niece of hers. And then she named several other relatives who also had odd behaviour that could be explained by this.

Finding out more

I got her to look it up on Google. I even had to spell it for her. And there it was, laid out in great detail, the classic symptoms. She was both appalled and delighted. Now she knew exactly what was going on, and what to do about it.

I have no doubt that she will follow the advice and gradually get rid of her long-term anxiety. I was very pleased to be able to help her. The tragedy is, that so many people have it, and don't realise. Dysthymia is an unnecessary drag on people's lives and happiness. And it is easily cured.

Perhaps there should be a public awareness campaign to bring it into the public consciousness. The mystery of dysthymia is why something has not been done up till now.



David Mason

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