When we think about depression, we think of obvious symptoms, such as sadness and lethargy. However, not everyone struggling with depression will appear this obvious. In such cases, they may be struggling with low-grade depression.
People with low-grade depression often don’t show the behavioral signs associated with this condition. While the reason varies for everyone, it’s likely due to an internalization of emotions. Naturally, this can have serious repercussions on an individual’s mental health.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at low-grade depression, how to identify it, and what you can do to treat it. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Low-Grade Depression Definition
People with low-grade depression will experience persistent depressive symptoms. However, these symptoms will be of mild severity. ¹
In turn, it can be difficult to identify whether or not a person is struggling. Those of this condition will likely not realize they struggle with a medical problem and become used to their chronic low mood. Such cases often go untreated as they are perceived to be “normal.”
Unlike other forms of depression, there’s usually no clear cause in low-grade cases. Most researchers attribute it to a combination of genetics and environment. ² On top of this, people with low-grade depression may develop other mental health issues, such as an anxiety disorder or a substance abuse disorder.
Symptoms of Low-Grade Depression
Since low-grade depression affects everyone differently, no two will experience the same set of symptoms. Still, the most common are:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Eating too much or too little (with weight changes)
- Feeling hopeless and empty
- Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Low self-esteem
- Negative mood and thoughts
- Poor decision making
- Sleeping too much or too little
For a low-grade diagnosis, you’ll need to experience two or more of these symptoms for at least two years. However, in the case of minors, a diagnosis can occur after one year of symptoms.
What’s the Difference Between Low-Grade Depression vs. Major Depression?
The biggest difference between low-grade and major depression is the severity. Those with low-grade will struggle with mild symptoms, whereas those with major have intense symptoms.
While both conditions have a similar set of symptoms, people with major depression will likely experience suicidal ideation. ³ On top of this, a diagnosis for major depression only requires two weeks worth of these symptoms.
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
If you struggle with suicidal ideation, help is available. In cases of emergency, you need to call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. In all other cases, you can reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Still, 75% of people with low-grade will likely experience an episode of major depression at some point in their lives. ⁴ For this reason, it’s important to seek out treatment when the symptoms remain “mild.”
How to Treat Low-Grade Depression
Treating low-level depression looks similar to that of treating major depressive disorders. This involves a set of medication – typically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – as well as talk therapy (psychotherapy). ⁵
Furthermore, people with low-grade benefit greatly from lifestyle changes. ⁶ These can include eating healthier, exercising, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.
While cases of low-level depression may not be as severe as major depression, they should be taken very seriously. As mentioned, people with low-grade are likely to have episodes of major depression. In turn, this can lead to impulsive behaviors that result in potentially fatal consequences.
If you struggle with this type of depression, help is available. We recommend reaching out to a mental health professional to get a clear idea of what the best treatment options are for you.
Still have questions about what is low-grade depression?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: Prevalence and incidence studies of mood disorders: a systematic review of the literature
² Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience: Gene-environment interaction and the genetics of depression
³ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Suicide Prevention: Risk and Protective Factors
⁴ Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School): Feeling down? It could be low-level depression
⁵ World Psychiatry: Adding psychotherapy to antidepressant medication in depression and anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis
⁶ BMC Psychiatry: Lifestyle medicine for depression