When Your Depression Is Mild (And When It’s Not)

Healthy Living

January 12, 2018

Depression is a common medical condition affecting an estimated 300 million people around the world. While some depression is mild and responsive to lifestyle changes, other forms are severe and serious, especially if left untreated. It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, particularly when you’re going through rough phases or helping others deal with their problems. However, if those feelings persist, worsen or manifest with other symptoms, you could be suffering from depression. Clinical depression requires a medical diagnosis. But whether you’re suffering from mild forms or something more severe, getting help can ease your symptoms and improve your outlook.

Types of Depression, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Mental health disorders come in all shapes and diagnoses, and depression is no different. There are varying degrees to depression just as there are different underlying causes ranging from chemical problems to environmental factors. Here are some common types of depression, how to recognize the symptoms and what to do about them if you or someone you love is suffering.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Dysthymia is chronic depression that makes you feel generally sad for most of the day for at least two years. Though the causes of this common form of depression are unknown, it’s most often down through families. Symptoms include:

  • Insomnia (sleeplessness) or hypersomnia (oversleeping)
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or self-criticism
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, talk to a doctor for a diagnosis. Your doctor may suggest making lifestyle changes to alleviate some of your symptoms. These could include getting proper amounts of rest and exercise, building positive relationships, avoiding drug and alcohol abuse, and maintaining a healthy diet. If lifestyle changes do not improve your symptoms in a reasonable amount of time, medication may be added to the overall treatment plan.

Major Depression

Those suffering from major depression often experience severe symptoms. Of adults over 18 living in the United States, nearly 7 percent suffer from major depression, but up to 25 percent may have a major depressive episode at some point. Women suffer from major depression at nearly double the rate of men, possibly due to the complex hormonal changes women experience throughout their lifetimes. Symptoms of major depression include:

  • Persistent lack of energy
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
  • Agitation or sluggishness
  • Loss of appetite or overeating, leading to significant weight changes
  • Inability to make simple choices
  • Lack of concentration
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide

If these symptoms hit close to home for you, seek the guidance of a psychiatrist. Start with your primary doctor if you’re not sure how to go about getting help. Blood tests and an in-depth screening can rule out any physical problems that cause identical or similar symptoms. If you’re diagnosed with major depression, a health professional can help you find an individual treatment plan. Lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, talk therapy and prescription antidepressant medications – or a combination of several of these – are all treatment options for major depression.

Postpartum Depression

Women who have recently given birth can experience postpartum depression (PPD), and it’s more common than you think. Not to be confused with so-called “baby blues,” a relatively mild response to the hormonal changes involved in the aftermath of giving birth, postpartum depression is more serious and persistent. This condition can affect women for a full year after giving birth. Here are some common PPD symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping (too much or too little)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Disinterest in daily activities
  • Anger, irritability and anxiety
  • Severe mood swings
  • Irrational feelings of guilt
  • Indecisiveness and lack of concentration
  • Relational withdrawal
  • Appetite changes
  • Inability to bond with your baby
  • Thoughts of harming the baby or yourself
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, contact your doctor. Start with your OBGYN. These professionals typically screen for PPD, as does your child’s pediatrician. If you ever have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, call 911 or your local emergency phone number immediately and, if possible, stay with another person until help arrives. Treatment can include counselling and prescription antidepressant medications depending on the severity of the condition.

You might think that PPD will resolve itself over time – and it might, once you get back into a normal routine. But PPD can affect your relationship with your child, not to mention others, so talk to a doctor if you don’t feel right. Medication and therapy may help clear the fog and help you enjoy motherhood more fully.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Many women experience some symptoms of PMS, such as moodiness, cramps and fatigue. While these same symptoms can occur with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, they are often more severe. Additional symptoms include:

  • Anger, irritability and extreme anxiety
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Headaches, muscle and joint pain, and breast tenderness
  • Hot flashes
  • Appetite changes
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Disinterest in daily activities
  • Lack of concentration

If these symptoms describe what you’re experiencing around the time of your monthly menstrual cycle, you may suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Common treatments include antidepressants, hormone therapy, vitamins supplements or anti-inflammatory medications. Lifestyle changes, such as getting proper rest and nutrition, can also be beneficial.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal changes trigger the onset of seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Most SAD sufferers experience the onset of symptoms during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight. Fall and winter SAD symptoms include:

  • Hypersomnia (oversleeping)
  • Sluggishness and heaviness of limbs
  • Lethargy
  • Extreme reaction to rejection
  • Irritability
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
  • Appetite changes, which can lead to weight gain

Symptoms of spring and summer SAD sufferers include weight loss instead of weight gain and insomnia instead of excess sleeping. Common SAD treatments include light therapy, psychotherapy and prescription antidepressant medications.

With the wide range of treatment options available, you don’t need to feel hopeless about overcoming depression. The key is finding the right medical care and treatment plan based on the type of depression you’re dealing with. If you think you’re suffering from depression, contact a qualified health professional for an accurate diagnosis and to explore treatment options. Make sure that you only change your medication dosages or stop taking a medication with the approval of your physician. Keep seeking medical treatment until you find a doctor and treatment plan that works for you.