A person with mild depression will have a low mood and other symptoms of depression, but the symptoms will be less intense

Changes in mood that last for or more may be a sign of depression, and they are a matter of concern. Early intervention can help prevent more serious complications from arising.

In this article, we look at how to identify mild depression and when to seek help.

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The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) state that changes in moods and behavior can indicate mild depression.

Other common symptoms include:

  • irritability and agitation
  • feeling unusually tired
  • feeling hopeless
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • feeling overwhelmingly sad
  • having difficulty focusing
  • feeling unmotivated
  • wanting to be left alone
  • having unexplained, minor aches and pains
  • losing empathy with others
  • moving or talking slowly
  • thinking about death or suicide
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • eating more or less than usual
  • changes in the use of tobacco, alcohol, or drugs
  • changes relating to work or study

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the symptoms of mild or moderate depression are similar to those of severe depression but less intense.

A person with mild depression may experience:

  • feelings of sadness
  • a loss of appetite
  • sleeping problems
  • reduced energy levels
  • difficulties concentrating

Many people with mild depression can manage these distressing symptoms, but they may have a minor effect on their social and work life. Although other people may not notice symptoms of mild depression in an individual, they can take a toll on the person experiencing them.

Mild symptoms can also occur between relapses or as warning signs of more severe depression.

A person who experiences new or worsening symptoms should seek medical help.

The NIMH list some common types of depression. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe in any type.

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)

Symptoms last at least 2 years. At times, symptoms may be mild, but the person may also experience severe symptoms that indicate major depression.

Seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may happen during the shorter days of fall and winter. A lack of sunlight and changing sleep patterns may contribute. The person may withdraw socially, put on weight, and sleep more in the winter.

Perinatal and postpartum depression

Symptoms can occur during and after pregnancy. Unlike the “baby blues,” this can last for weeks, months, or years.

Postpartum depression involves extreme sadness, anxiety, and fatigue, making it hard for the new parent to take care of their infant.

Bipolar depression

A person with bipolar disorder experiences changes in mood. They may have symptoms of depression before or after an elevated mood, during which they will experience high energy and activity.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

This is similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) but more severe. Symptoms include severe irritability, anxiety, and depression that last from 1–2 weeks before until 2–3 days after menstruation starts.

If a person experiences a persistent low mood for 2 weeks or more, they may have depression. A doctor can often help.

The doctor may ask about the person’s:

  • symptoms
  • medical history
  • regular medications
  • work and lifestyle habits
  • family medical history

They may carry out a physical examination and tests to rule out a medical cause.

A doctor will use a range of criteria to diagnose depression and other types of mental illness.

A specialist will diagnose a person with major depressive disorder if they have five or more of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or longer:

  • a depressed mood most of the time
  • reduced interest in activities that they usually enjoy
  • significant changes in weight or appetite
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • sleeping too much
  • feelings of restlessness or slowing down that are noticeable to others
  • fatigue or low energy most days
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • thinking about death or suicide

Online tests

Many online tests claim to be able to identify depression. The PHQ-9 test uses professional diagnostic criteria and has nine questions. Doctors often use these questions to help identify depression.

Anyone unsure about speaking to a doctor may find it useful to take the PHQ-9 test online.

If the result suggests that a person has depression, they should make an appointment to see a licensed health professional to confirm the diagnosis and discuss the next steps.

People with mild depression can ask their doctor about medication, but they may prefer to start with lifestyle alterations.

Experts have suggested that making changes in the following may help:

There is strong evidence to support some of these, such as exercise and sleep, but scientists need to do more studies to confirm the use of others.

Some research has suggested that eating a diet that focuses on fresh and whole foods may be more beneficial than consuming a Western diet.

A plant-based diet will provide more nutrients, including antioxidants than one that is high in fat, sugar, and highly processed ingredients.

Spending time in a less polluted environment may also help some people, although this is not always possible.

A 2015 study found that during leisure activities, people with depression felt less bored, had improved mood, reduced stress levels, and a lower heart rate.

One study has suggested that workplace modifications may help those experiencing depression due to job stress.

If these do not help, a person may wish to consider other treatments.

Medical treatment for depression usually involves a combination of medication and talking therapy, or counseling.

Talking therapy

During a series of sessions, the individual will work with a counselor to identify the causes of depression and find ways of resolving it.

There are many types of therapy for depression, for example:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps a person understand how thoughts can impact behavior. It can equip them to change unhelpful patterns in their life.

Guided self-help: The person may follow an online course or manual with the support of a therapist. The course aims to provide tools that enable a person to make helpful changes.

Behavioral activation: The person will learn some small, practical steps that can help them engage in regular activities and enjoy life again.

Interpersonal therapy: This helps a person find more effective ways to manage relationships.

Counseling for depression: The person will explore why depression has occurred and look for ways to overcome it.

Qualities to look for in a therapist include:

  • having experience and qualifications relevant to the individual’s needs
  • having an overall timeframe and plan for treatment
  • being able to explain their approach and why they have chosen it
  • having a professional license to practice psychotherapy

Medication

A doctor may prescribe medication alongside counseling or if other methods do not help.

According to the NIMH, drugs, such as antidepressants, can help treat depression. Antidepressants include fluoxetine (Prozac) and citalopram (Celexa).

In 2017, around 17.3 million adults in the United States experienced at least one episode of depression.

If can affect anyone, but the NIMH indicate that a person may be at higher risk if they:

  • have a personal or family history of depression
  • have experienced trauma or stress
  • have undergone a significant life change, such as a job loss or bereavement
  • have a persistent illness

According to the National Health Service in the U.K., alcohol and some recreational drugs may also contribute.

If a person has signs of depression, they should consider seeking help, as early action can help prevent symptoms from worsening or persisting.

The first step may be to make some lifestyle changes. If these do not help, however, counseling or medication may be the next step.

Anyone who has thoughts of self-harm, suicide, or harm to others should seek immediate assistance.

Most insurances cover treatment for depression — including psychotherapy and medication — providing the person seeks treatment with a licensed mental health professional.

People should check with their insurance company to obtain a list of treatment providers in their area.

will cover the cost of one screening per year for depression, as long as the person seeks screening in a doctor’s office or another primary care setting.

Medicare may also pay for or contribute to some treatment following the screening. People should ask their doctor why they are recommending specific options and whether Medicare will cover them.