Characteristics of Dysthymia and Cyclothymia

Both dysthymia and cyclothymia belong to a class of psychological conditions known as mood disorders. According to the U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, mood disorders, in general, come with certain characteristics and patterns that disrupt a person’s overall emotional well-being, some of which include:

  • Episodes of sadness or depression
  • Noticeable fluctuations in mood ranging from extreme sadness to extreme happiness
  • Loss of interest in important life areas

While depression and bipolar conditions are the most common forms of mood disorders, dysthymia and cyclothymia exist as milder versions of the two most common disorders. As a less severe form of depression, dysthymia can be just as disruptive in terms of affecting a person’s quality of life. Likewise, cyclothymia involves fluctuations in mood much like bipolar disorder, though less severe and quite disruptive.

While most everyone experiences occasional ups and downs, characteristics of dysthymia and cyclothymia disorders can be hard to miss.


The word dysthymia comes from the Greek language, meaning “ill humor” or “bad state of mind.” Dysthymia exists as one of the two main forms of clinical depression, with fewer symptoms but longer duration.

Dysthymic disorder affects an estimated 1.5 percent of Americans within any given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Of this number, 49.7 percent suffer from severe forms of the condition.

What most distinguishes dysthymia from clinical depression has to do with the chronic, long-lasting symptoms that come with dysthymic disorder. While not as severe as major depressive disorder, symptoms associated with dysthymia can last for as long as two years or more whereas major depression episodes may only last for two weeks at a time.

According to Harvard Health Publications, symptoms commonly associated with dysthymia include –

depression signs

Feelings of hopelessness and low self esteem are symptoms of dysthymia.

  • Loss of concentration
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Lack of sleep or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Over time, these symptoms can greatly disrupt a person’s life affecting areas involving work, family, socializing and eventually causing declines in one’s overall physical health.


Cyclothymia mood disorders entail noticeable shifts in mood that resemble those experienced with bipolar disorder. Symptoms are less severe but long lasting. When left untreated for two years or more, people affected by cyclothymia can develop full-blown bipolar disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Symptoms associated with cyclothymia appear in two phases: the hypomanic phase and the depressive phase. Phases can last anywhere from a day to a couple weeks at a time.

Symptoms experienced during the hypomania phase include –

  • Exaggerated feelings of euphoria that are atypical of one’s baseline demeanor
  • Rapid speech patterns
  • Shorter sleep periods
  • Racing thoughts
  • Overconfidence
  • Taking risks
  • Increase in sexual desire

Symptoms experienced during the depressive phase include –

  • Loss of energy
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Chronic pain symptoms
  • Pervasive sadness
  • Loss of sex drive

While people affected by cyclothymia can function normally in daily life, mood shifts can happen at any time and ultimately disrupt a person’s quality of life from day to day.


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