Could you have low-grade depression?

October 03, 2019 | by Linda Huelke-Pfleger, LCPC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Are you feeling persistently down? Maybe you can still function, get out of bed and go about your day, but your gloomy mood keeps you from feeling good. Maybe you’re even a little apathetic about life. Should you be concerned?

Many of us think of depression as being marked by overwhelmingly sadness and an inability to get out of bed or function — something that really interferes with life. There’s also the depression that typically happens in the late fall and winter (seasonal affective disorder) and the well-known “baby blues” (perinatal mood and anxiety disorder).

Fewer people know about a more chronic, low-grade form of depression called persistent depressive disorder (PDD), or dysthymia.

With this form of depression, a person’s mood is regularly low for prolonged periods of time. Dysthymia is characterized by a depressed mood (or irritability in children) for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two years in adults or at least one year in children and teens.

While dysthymia shares symptoms of other forms of depression, the symptoms of dysthymia are generally chronic and occur on most days, such as:

  • Persistently feeling sad
  • Sleep issues (insomnia or sleeping too much)
  • Low energy, feeling tired
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Overeating or poor appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Dysthymia is different from major depressive disorder, one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S., affecting about 16 million adults. With major depression, a person will cycle through episodes of being symptom-free and then feeling severely depressed. An episode of depression is relatively short but is usually serious enough to cause a break from the individual’s normal life.

Dysthymia is not as crippling as major depression, but it lasts longer and has a persistent hold on the person. While it has fewer or less serious symptoms, the symptoms linger. Since the condition becomes so much a part of life, it can make it feel “normal.” This makes it difficult to detect. In older people, dysthymia may be disguised as dementia or irritability.

Also, a majority of people with dysthymia (75 percent) will also experience an episode of major depression at some point. This is known as double depression. After the major depressive episode ends, instead of being symptom-free, the person then returns to the more chronic, low-grade symptoms.

You might have dysthymia if your mood is regularly low. You may be able to carry out your daily activities, but without much enthusiasm for life. Your depressed mood lingers for more than two months at a time.

Dysthymia often begins during childhood or adolescence. Children may appear irritable or moody over a prolonged period. They may have issues with school performance and social interaction. While the exact cause of dysthymia is unknown, it can run in families. Also, it occurs more often in women.

If you think you have low-grade depression, talk to your doctor. Dysthymia is a long-lasting condition that usually won’t go away on its own. It can interfere with all aspects of your life, including work, family, school and social life.

Your doctor may recommend a mental  health professional, who may provide a combination of medication and talk therapy. You could also try making some lifestyle adjustments, such as:

If you find yourself suffering from symptoms of depression, the best thing you can do is to seek help sooner rather than later. Call your doctor and figure out what your next step is so that you can get your life back on track and can enjoy work, leisure, friends and family again.

Explore behavioral health resources, or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.

Are you at risk for depression? Take our free, online DepressionAware test.

Related blogs:

Beating common depression stigmas

Depression can take a toll on your body, too

Is your child depressed? A yearly screening can help

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

Getting help for depression

Beating common depression stigmas

Is your teen depressed?

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