Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymic Disorder

What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Also called major depression, a major depressive disorder is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime, but more often, it recurs throughout a person's life. 

What is Dysthymic Disorder?

Also called dysthymia, dysthymic disorder is characterized by long-term (two years or longer) but less severe symptoms that may not disable a person but can prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well. An individual with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during his or her lifetime.

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or permission
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities or hobbies, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Other illnesses:

Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder often accompany depression.


  • Combination of biochemical, environmental, and psychological factors
  • Trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or any stressful situation
  • Genetics
  • The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters - chemicals that brain cells use to communicate - appear to be out of balance.