Mild depression can be hard to diagnose. Many symptoms can feel like regular emotional responses.
While the name may suggest that this is not a serious condition, changes in mood can become more severe, and it often helps to address depression at an early stage.
In this article, we look at how to identify mild depression, where it may lead, and when to seek help.
Signs and symptoms
Significant changes in moods and behavior can indicate mild depression, as can heightened physical sensations.
Common symptoms include:
- negative thoughts
- feeling unusually tired
- feeling hopeless
- feeling overwhelmingly sad
- being frequently on the verge of tears
- having difficulty focusing
- feeling unmotivated
- wanting to be left alone
- having unexplained, minor aches and pains
- losing empathy with others
Changes in behavior can also indicate depression. Sleep patterns can shift, and appetites may increase or decrease. People with mild depression may also use more mood enhancers, such as cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol.
Types of depression
Below are six common types of depression, as reported by Harvard Medical School.
- Persistent depressive disorder is often called mild depression or dysthymia. A person diagnosed with this condition will have had symptoms listed above for about 2 years. They can typically manage their day-to-day life, but with little fun or enjoyment.
- Major depression can involve very dark moods, which may lead to suicidal thoughts.
- Seasonal affective disorder is often triggered during the shorter days of fall and winter. A lack of sunlight and changing sleep patterns may contribute to this condition.
- Perinatal and postpartum depression can affect people during and after pregnancy. This depression can be mild or major.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome, which is commonly known as PMS.
- Bipolar disorder can involve symptoms of minor or major depression. However, these symptoms come before or after a period of high energy and activity, which is classified as a manic or hypomanic state.
The experience of depression can change over time. New symptoms, such as periods of gloominess or sleeplessness, may occur.
Existing symptoms may also worsen. Occasional bouts of worrying may turn into a nearly constant focus on negatives. Frequent irritation with friends may become nonstop frustration.
These types of changes may indicate a transition from mild to moderate depression. If a person observes any differences in symptoms, they should consult a doctor.
Severe or major depression tends to be noticeable to others. The condition is very debilitating, making it extremely difficult to perform usual activities.
Severe depression often involves similar symptoms to milder forms. However, a person with severe depression may also experience:
- thoughts about self-harm or suicide
An individual with this condition will likely require medication, and a doctor may recommend a type of talking therapy.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the medications most commonly prescribed for severe depression. Examples of SSRIs include:
Benzodiazepines are also available, but they can become addictive with prolonged use. Doctors usually prescribe them when other options have not worked.
If the many other forms of medication and therapy have not been effective, a doctor may suggest electroconvulsive therapy for severe depression. This involves a person receiving an electrical current in the brain while under anesthesia. This can be carried out two to three times a week, resulting in 6-12 treatments.
What to do about mild depression
Visiting a doctor is often a good way to start dealing with depression. The doctor can assess whether depression is causing symptoms and identify the degree of the condition.
Many online tests claim to be able to identify depression. The PHQ-9 test was developed in 1999 and is based on professional diagnostic criteria. It has only nine questions, which are used by doctors in many countries to identify the presence and type of depression.
Anyone unsure about speaking to a doctor may find it useful to take the PHQ-9 test online.
Mild depression is often treated with simple lifestyle changes. These may involve altering a person’s diet and sleeping patterns, or improving their work-life balance. It may also help to spend designated periods of time away from TV and social media.
Lifestyle changes to help
Many find that hobbies can help with mild depression. A recent study suggested that people who took up creative pastimes, “had more positive and less negative mood, more interest, less stress, and lower heart rate when engaging in leisure than when not.”
Busy lifestyles lend themselves to shortcuts, which may involve using time-saving devices, means of transport, or meals. These can be helpful but may also take people away from healthful activities.
Daily recommendations to help with depression often include:
- getting more fresh air
- exercising a little more
- eating fresh foods
- meditating, or just sitting still, for 10 minutes
- limiting time spent on the computer or watching TV, especially in the evenings
- doing someone a favor
- speaking to someone
It may be impossible to try some of these tips, due to health issues, age, or other factors. Other treatment options are listed below.
Traumatic events can lead to mild depression. If this is the case, and if mild depression is becoming moderate, a doctor may suggest a talking therapy.
Some types of talking therapy include:
A series of sessions with a qualified counselor can help to identify causes of depression. Counselors do not instruct people, they instead suggest that some aspects of life could be changed.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
Some find relating to others difficult, and this can lead to isolation and depression. IPT is designed to help make relationships easier.
This involves a therapist asking a person to say what is on their mind, while the therapist seeks to identify problematic patterns of thought or behavior. A person may be unaware that these patterns are causing discomfort and contributing to depression.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Rather than focusing on the causes of depression, CBT can offer practical ways to deal with results. This may involve distracting the mind from upsetting thoughts or identifying early warning signs of a changing mood.
CBT is a popular choice because people often see improvement within weeks, and the therapy tends to require a short-term commitment.
Who gets depression?
In 2017, depression was the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Depression may be so widespread because it has no single cause.
Women are more likely to become depressed than men. Opinions vary on why this is the case. Puberty, pregnancy, and menstruation are all common times for symptoms to appear.
Statistics vary from country to country, but depression is more prevalent in the following groups:
- people at an economic disadvantage
- people with chronic health conditions, such as coronary heart disease or cancer
- children of parents with depression
- people with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety
Also, many medications can trigger depression. If a person is unsure whether emotional changes are related to medication, they should consult a doctor.
Identifying depression at an early stage may be helpful. If a person is unsure whether they have depression, it may be a good idea to consult a doctor.
When depression is mild, simple lifestyle changes may have significant, lasting benefits. These benefits may become apparent more quickly to some people than others.
Anyone with moderate or severe depression should stay in contact with a doctor and report any thoughts of self-harm, suicide, or harm to others.