The relationship between major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymia, a form of chronic depression, is complex. The two conditions are highly comorbid and it is unclear whether they are two separate disease entities. We investigated the extent to which patients with dysthymia superimposed on major depression can be distinguished from those with recurrent MDD.
We examined the clinical features in 1970 Han Chinese women with MDD (DSM-IV) between 30 and 60 years of age across China. Logistic regression was used to determine the association between clinical features of MDD and dysthymia and between dysthymia and disorders comorbid with major depression.
The 354 cases with dysthymia had more severe MDD than those without, with more episodes of MDD and greater co-morbidity for anxiety disorders. Patients with dysthymia had higher neuroticism scores and were more likely to have a family history of MDD. They were also more likely to have suffered serious life events.
Results were obtained in a clinically ascertained sample of Chinese women and may not generalize to community-acquired samples or to other populations. It is not possible to determine whether the associations represent causal relationships.
The additional diagnosis of dysthymia in Chinese women with recurrent MDD defines a meaningful and potentially important subtype. We conclude that in some circumstances it is possible to distinguish double depression from recurrent MDD.