Depression has varying degrees of severity. You can feel so depressed that you can’t get out of bed and possibly feel suicidal as well. Then there is something known as dysthymia. Dysthymia is similar to a cold when you are sick. It is a low-grade malaise that sticks with you. You feel down and like there are weights on you when you’re walking around. You can’t seem to shake this bad feeling you’re having. But it’s not like the flu which is what I would equate to depression too, it’s more like the common cold.
To other people, you may even appear like nothing is “wrong.” You can fake being “okay” more than someone with Major Depressive Disorder might be able to for example. People with dysthymia are sometimes referred to as “high functioning,” which is a word that I don’t particularly care for when it comes to mental illness. But, what that means is that they can go to work, do day-to-day activities. It’s easy to feel insecure when you have mental health issues. If you’re living with dysthymia you might be self-conscious about whether or not people can tell that you’re depressed.
I remember when I was in high school and experiencing severe depression (which is different from dysthymia) I wondered if anyone noticed or cared. I was in school for theater (I went to a performing arts high school in New York City) and I was a great actress, but in the sense that I pretended that I wasn’t depressed, I didn’t want to die and I was a regular teenager. But on the inside I was miserable. A person with dysthymia might appear like they are someone who doesn’t have any mental health issues, but this isn’t the case at all.
Having a low-grade level of persistent depression, low mood and feelings of consistent sadness take a toll on your mind and body. It’s exhausting to feel sad all the time.
There are certain symptoms to look for when it comes to spotting someone with dysthymia. A common one is perfectionism. Being highly critical of oneself is a symptom of depression, but particularly of someone with dysthymia. One key point about dysthymia is that it’s a more subtle presentation than someone with a pronounced mental illness such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia or even Major Depressive Disorder. It’s important to remember that even though the presentation is more subtle it doesn’t make the pain any less. It’s still difficult for the person who is living with dysthymia to function.
Having a depression type cold is uncomfortable and it makes it hard to function well. The perfectionist can weigh heavily on someone living with dysthymia. They can become preoccupied with doing things correctly and become hyper-critical of themselves when they don’t feel that they measure up to other people around them.
If a friend of yours looks like they are struggling with depression, but you’re not sure it could be dysthymia. It’s okay to check in with your friend and see if they’re doing okay. You don’t even need to ask “are you okay?” Just ask them what’s happening with them in their life. You can gauge how they’re doing from what they say.
Remember that depression doesn’t look the same on everyone. The symptoms of depression vary depending on the person. You can take Aaron Beck’s Depression Inventory to see where you fall in the scale. Regardless of how you’re feeling, you are not alone. There are people out there who do care and want to help, it’s just a matter of finding them.
Originally published on Medium
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