What is Dysthymia? How it is Linked with Fibromyalgia

If you have fibromyalgia, you know how much of a mental toll it can take on you. Living with that kind of constant, agonizing pain is hard. And not having the energy or the focus to do the things you used to can be even worse. So, it’s easy to understand why so many people with fibromyalgia struggle with depression.

In fact, while fibromyalgia isn’t fatal, the suicide rate for fibromyalgia sufferers is tragically high. Anything we can learn about the unique mental health challenges that people with the condition face is extremely valuable in helping those who are suffering.

For instance, did you know that there are actually many different kinds of depression? Doctors grade the condition based on the cause, symptoms, and duration. And one of the longest-lasting forms is dysthymia. So what is dysthymia, and what can you do to help manage it?

What Is Dysthymia?

Dysthymia, or persistent depressive disorder, is a condition that causes long-term depressive episodes. While other types of depression may strike suddenly and resolve the worst of the symptoms within a month or two, dysthymia can last for years. The symptoms are generally similar though. They include a loss of interest in everyday activities, fatigue, mental fog, irritability, and a loss of appetite.

But the symptoms can be less obvious as well. Usually, people who struggle with depression are consumed by negative thoughts. They get caught up thinking about how they’ve made mistakes, or about how they are worthless. Those thoughts can be so consuming that it can make even getting out of bed difficult some days.

When it comes to dysthymia, these symptoms can often be milder than those of other forms of depression. But they can also vary in intensity. Simply put, some days you feel much worse than others. Think about it like a rain cloud following you. Sometimes, the storm is worse, but it’s always raining.

The main difference between dysthymia and other forms of depression is that dysthymia lasts much longer. The main criterion for a diagnosis is that the patient shows that kind of negative thinking patterns for at least two years. Some days, when the condition is worse, they may also show the physical symptoms as well, like mental fog and loss of appetite.

It’s hard to say what causes someone to develop depression. A number of factors probably play some role like:

  • Brain Chemistry- Our brains are formed from complicated systems of chemicals called neurotransmitters and electrical signals. When the system gets out of balance, it can lead to depression. People with depression usually have a lower level of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which regulates our moods.
  • Genetics- There’s a strong link between depression and genetics. People with a family history of the condition are more likely to develop the condition themselves. This is probably due to inherited traits affecting the chemistry of the brain.
  • Circumstances- Obviously, negative life events- like developing fibromyalgia- can leave us feeling depressed. But they can also affect the chemistry in our brains, which can lead to clinical depression.

If you’ve been struggling with the condition for a long time, it might actually be hard to recognize it. You adjust to that way of thinking and begin to believe that it is normal. And while it can seem like there’s no way out of those thoughts, there are a number of things that can help.

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Management Methods

There are three basic medications used to treat dysthymia: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).

They work in a similar way, helping to regulate the balance of the neurotransmitters in your brain. But everyone’s brain is different. And an antidepressant that works for one person may be useless for someone else. Finding the right antidepressant for you usually takes a bit of trial and error. So it’s important to stay in close contact with your doctor about what you’re feeling until you find something that works for you.

But antidepressants sometimes aren’t enough on their own, especially when you have fibromyalgia. The depressing struggles of living with fibromyalgia can’t be medicated away. So, it’s usually best to look for a therapist who can help you find ways to cope with them. A good therapist can help you with new ways to manage the daily problems of fibromyalgia and help develop new thinking patterns that can relieve your depression.

Always remember that if you’re having a hard time managing your depression and feel like you might be a risk to yourself or others, you need to get help. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.

So, what do you think? Have you experienced depression while struggling with fibromyalgia? What did you do?

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