Minor Depression: Is There Such A Thing?

Updated August 27, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lori Jones, LMHC

If you’ve been feeling depressed and it has lasted for more than a couple of weeks, you could have a mild case of depression. It’s important to note that your depressed feelings could just be general sadness over a bunch of things that are going on in your life. For example, if you’re experiencing grief over the loss of someone you care about or the loss of your job, you could be dealing with situational depression, which can resolve on its own after processing through all the steps of grief.

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Depression can be a difficult thing to figure out on your own because our moods change from moment to moment and from day today. A depressive disorder is different than the sadness that everyone experiences from time to time. Many factors can contribute to a depressive disorder, so it’s difficult to assess it on your own. Symptoms of depression might last for a short while, and they might last for a long time. To compound things even further, a depressive disorder can fall into different categories.

Something else that makes the issue of depression even more confusing is that there are degrees of depression. If your depression happens to be fairly mild, it can be extremely difficult for a non-clinical professional to tell the difference between a minor depressive disorder that requires treatment and a temporary bout of sadness. This is an important distinction because sadness will subside on its own, but even a mild case of a major depressive disorder should be treated so that you can enjoy a happy, healthy life.

When sadness gets confusing, and you’re really not sure how to feel better, the one thing you can do for yourself is to schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist that can provide a mental health assessment and help you take the next steps toward feeling better.

Can A Major Depressive Disorder Be Minor?

The reality is that minor depression is still depression. The intensity of the symptoms of a major depressive disorder can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. That’s what people are referring to when they say “mild depression” – mild symptoms of major depressive disorder. The intensity of the symptoms of major depression is rated based on how disabling they are and to what degree they interfere with someone’s daily functioning to work and manage their households.

While it seems like a contradiction, minor depression can and does often meet the DSM criteria for major depression. As explained above, the difference is that their symptoms are at the milder end of the scale of severity of symptoms. Some people mistakenly believe that mild depression isn’t a serious condition that requires treatment, and in most cases, that’s not fair or accurate.

Various Types Of Depression

Harvard Medical School identifies the following types of depression:

  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Major depression (which includes minor depression)
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Perinatal and postpartum depression
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Bipolar disorder

Minor Depression And Persistent Depressive Disorder

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When learning more about minor or major depression, you may encounter the term persistent depressive disorder, which is also called dysthymia or PDD. The persistent depressive disorder differs from minor depression because of the length of time that it lasts, as opposed to the severity of the symptoms. A persistent depressive disorder is continuous and chronic, meaning the symptoms last for a long time (typically, over two years). The symptoms of persistent depressive disorder are much the same as for major depression. It’s just that they can last for years and can significantly interfere with your relationships and other areas of your life. A persistent depressive disorder isn’t usually as severe as major depression, although symptoms commonly fall into the mild, moderate, or severe range. The intensity of the symptoms can change over time. Generally, someone with persistent depressive disorder won’t have a lack of symptoms for up to two months. To complicate things further, a person can have episodes of major depression before or during the time they have a persistent depressive disorder, which may be referred to as a double depression.

People that have the persistent depressive disorder can generally tolerate their symptoms and go on with daily activities, but they don’t get much enjoyment from them.

Understanding Minor Depression

There are a lot of common misconceptions about minor or mild depression (which falls into the category of major depression). Because of having a lower intensity of symptoms, mild depression can be difficult to diagnose. Many of the symptoms feel very similar to regular emotional responses. While the intensity of the symptoms is usually mild, it can change and become more severe.

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of minor depression. Note that many of them are similar to the symptoms of major depression.

  • Feeling irritable
  • Having negative or hopeless thoughts
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Having feelings of overwhelming sadness
  • Feeling tearful
  • Having a negative view of yourself
  • Having trouble focusing
  • Having a lack of motivation
  • Not feeling motivated
  • Preferring to be alone
  • Having aches and pains without an explanation
  • Not feeling empathetic toward others
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People with mild depression may experience changes in their normal behavior. Their sleeping and eating patterns may change. Their appetites may noticeably increase or decrease. People with mild depression also may be more inclined to use products like cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, or mood enhancers to try to reduce their symptoms by self-medicating.

The symptoms of minor depression can change over time. An individual may also experience times where they feel gloomy and can’t sleep. Besides, their current symptoms may get worse. What was occasional worry can turn into chronic negative thought patterns. Their frustration may increase, and it may have an effect on their relationships.

Mild depression can also quickly worsen and become severe depression. This intensity of symptoms will most certainly be noticed by those around the person with depression. People with major depression will have difficulty performing their normal daily activities, and they may even experience such severe symptoms as delusions, hallucinations, and suicidal ideations.

When mild depression evolves into moderate or severe depression, the individual needs to see a licensed professional and begin an appropriate course of treatment. It’s also not a bad idea to check in with your primary care physician and get a checkup.

Treatment Options For Mild Depression

If you’ve been diagnosed with mild depression, you have many options for things you can do to try to improve your symptoms, starting with a few simple lifestyle changes.

Begin by making a mental review of a typical day in your life. Consider your eating and sleeping patterns and your work schedule. Do you feel like you have a good work-life balance? If not, you’ve just found the first place to make a change in your life. To help out with your work-life balance, what things can you do to help you save time? Can you get some downtime by taking public transportation, grabbing rideshare, or join a carpool?

What hobbies or activities do you enjoy that you may have put on the back burner? Try adding one new thing that you enjoy into your schedule, and it may pick up your mood and lessen your stress.

Do you spend the bulk of your time in front of the television or on social media? While it’s important to spend some amount of time in rest and relaxation, it shouldn’t be taking away from other important things in your life.

Have you thought about making your meals for the week on the weekend and freezing them ahead of time? This is a great way to load up your diet with healthy proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Don’t forget about some healthy snacks.

Can you work a few 15-minute sessions of exercise into your schedule each day? Research shows that even a few 15-minute sessions of physical exercise can significantly decrease symptoms of depression.

Besides, relaxing activities can be helpful for people living with mild depression. There are lots of options to try, so if one of them isn’t your cup of tea, move on to another. Some things you can try are yoga, tai chi, meditation, mindfulness, or working on an adult coloring book.

Life can get super busy—so much so that we stop making time for our friends. Schedule time to visit with a friend. You don’t have to do anything special necessarily. Just get together, and you’ll be talking and laughing before you know it.

If you decide to see a licensed counselor for your symptoms of mild depression, you might be able to get started on a regime of cognitive behavior therapy, which is a kind of talk therapy. With online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can have your sessions online in the convenience of your own home.

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Your therapist will not tell you what you need to change to get rid of your symptoms of mild depression. What they will do is listen to how you’re feeling and help you to explore ways that will help your symptoms subside. Cognitive behavior therapy usually begins to work after a few sessions, and it only requires a short-term commitment. You’ll probably find that you enjoy your sessions. Your therapist will be monitoring your condition and let you know when you can manage on your own. Remember, help is always available.


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