Dysthymia in Youth

Prevalence of Dysthymia among Youth

The prevalence of dysthymia among youth varies globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018), depression is one of the leading causes of disability among adolescents worldwide, affecting approximately 10-20% of youth. In Singapore, studies (Lim, et al., 2018) have shown that the prevalence of depression and related mood disorders among youth is on the rise, with increased academic pressure, social media usage, and other stressors contributing to mental health challenges.

What is Dysthymia?

Dysthymia, also known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is a chronic mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities (APA, 2013). In youth populations, dysthymia can significantly impair daily functioning and overall well-being. 

Causes of Dysthymia 

The causes of dysthymia in youth are multifactorial, with a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychosocial factors playing a role. Genetic predisposition, imbalances in brain chemistry (such as serotonin and dopamine), childhood trauma or adverse experiences, chronic stress, and family history of mood disorders can contribute to the development of dysthymia in young individuals.

Signs and Symptoms of Dysthymia in Youth 

  • Persistent low mood
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Decreased interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors (in severe cases)

Diagnosis of Dysthymia in Youth

Diagnosing dysthymia in youth requires careful consideration of developmental factors, age-appropriate symptoms, and the duration of symptoms. According to DSM-5 criteria, the diagnosis of dysthymia in youth featured with:

1. The depressed or irritable mood has been for at least one year (in children and adolescents) and has caused clinically significant disturbances in daily functioning.

2. Presence, while depressed, of two (or more) of the following symptoms:

  • Poor appetite or overeating.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Low energy or fatigue.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions.
  • Feelings of hopelessness.

Treatment for Dysthymia in Youth 

Treatment for dysthymia in youth typically involves a multimodal approach, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle interventions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to help young individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns, develop coping skills, and improve problem-solving abilities. Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also be prescribed under the supervision of a psychiatrist or pediatrician.

In Singapore, mental health services for youth are also available through various channels, including school-based counseling programs, community mental health clinics, and private practitioners. Efforts to raise awareness about mental health issues and reduce stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health concerns are ongoing in both Singapore and globally.


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disordersĀ (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

World Health Organization (2018). Adolescent mental health. Retrieved fromĀ https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health

Lim, S., et al. (2018). Prevalence and correlates of depression in adolescents in Singapore. Asia-Pacific Psychiatry, 10(3), e12321. https://doi.org/10.1111/appy.12321

Written by:
Jenny Zeng
SACAC Counselling

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *