According to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published in 1994 (DSM-IV), dysthymia is a serious state of chronic depression, which persists for at least two years (one year for children and adolescents). Dysthymia is less acute and severe than major depressive disorder. As dysthymia is a chronic disorder, sufferers may experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, if diagnosis occurs at all. As a result, they may believe that depression is a part of their character, so they may not even discuss their symptoms with doctors, family members or friends.
Dysthymia often co-occurs with other mental disorders. A "double depression" is the occurrence of episodes of major depression in addition to dysthymia. Switching between periods of dysthymic moods and periods of hypomanic moods is indicative of cyclothymia, which is a mild variant of bipolar disorder.
In the DSM-5, dysthymia is replaced by persistent depressive disorder. This new condition includes both chronic major depressive disorder and the previous dysthymic disorder. The reason for this change is that there was no evidence for meaningful differences between these two conditions.
Dysthymia characteristics include an extended period of depressed mood combined with at least two other symptoms which may include insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue or low energy, eating changes (more or less), low self-esteem, or feelings of hopelessness. Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions are treated as another possible symptom. Mild degrees of dysthymia may result in people withdrawing from stress and avoiding opportunities for failure. In more severe cases of dysthymia, people may even withdraw from daily activities. They will usually find little pleasure in usual activities and pastimes. Diagnosis of dysthymia can be difficult because of the subtle nature of the symptoms and patients can often hide them in social situations, making it challenging for others to detect symptoms. Additionally, dysthymia often occurs at the same time as other psychological disorders, which adds a level of complexity in determining the presence of dysthymia, particularly because there is often an overlap in the symptoms of disorders. There is a high incidence of comorbid illness in those with dysthymia. Suicidal behavior is also a particular problem with persons with dysthymia. It is vital to look for signs of major depression, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, alcohol and substance misuse and personality disorder.