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Low-Grade Depression: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

By: Mooditude

7 min read

low grade depression
Low-grade depression or Dysthymia occurs when you experience long-lasting feelings of unhappiness and depression. It is majorly ignored but it can turn out to be chronic and can badly affect our mental health. Learn more about its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

Over the last one and half years, the pressures of daily life have dramatically increased. From pandemic to politics, the constant bombardment of uncertain news coverage across the world has paved the way for us to become concerned, overwhelmed, and disheartened. If you have experienced feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or other depression symptoms, it is a possibility that you are undergoing low-grade depression. It is also referred to as  Dysthymia. It is a long-term, low-grade depression that lasts for two years (minimum) in adults and a year in teens and children. While it is not as crippling as major depression, its stranglehold can keep you from feeling happy and interfere with your work, family, school, and social life.

What Is Low-Grade Depression?

Low-grade depression or Dysthymia occurs when you experience long-lasting feelings of unhappiness and depression. You may be unaware of the fact that you are suffering from low-grade depression. This is because the symptoms might be chronic and unknowingly normalized. But, very often, those suffering from low-grade depression are high-functioning. But that doesn’t imply that they aren’t suffering from symptoms of depression. Most people do have an idea of what depression feels like. When they think of what depression feels like, the word evokes a sense of lethargy and imagery of sad faces. While many people think and feel depressed in this form, many people do not exhibit such apparent symptoms. 

Many of those suffering from depression seem well-adjusted to their condition and do not display overt behavioral health issues. However, they keep experiencing a mood disorder that can seriously affect their physical and mental health. And, it has often been observed that most people don’t know they have it. The fact that it is low grade, low-level, or high-functioning may be misleading because it suggests a relatively mild condition. But it is not. It is a severe disorder that can have a long-term debilitating effect on physiological and psychological conditions. It can lead to a decline in the overall quality of life. 

Symptoms of Low-Grade Depression

Symptoms of Low-Grade Depression

The symptoms of low-grade depressive disorder usually come and go, and their intensity changes over time. But the symptoms don’t entirely disappear for more than two months at a stretch. Besides, significant episodes of depression are recurring in nature. Symptoms of low-grade depression may include:

  • Feeling down, sad and empty
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling incapable, having low self-esteem, and self-criticism
  • Tiredness, lethargy, and lack of energy
  • Irritability, excessive anger, and extreme mood swings
  • Trouble concentrating and trouble to make decisions
  • Avoidance of social engagement and activities
  • Decreased productivity and effectiveness
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Worrying over the past and feeling guilty
  • Sleep problems

Causes of Low-Grade Depression

Low-grade depression is also believed to be caused by a biochemical imbalance, genetic susceptibility, environmental circumstances, and life stress. The exact cause is, however, not known. It may involve more than one single cause. The exact cause of persistent depressive disorder continues to remain unknown. It may involve more than one cause. Here are some of them:

Biological Differences

Those suffering from low-grade depression may undergo physical changes in their brains. The significance of these biological changes is debatable, but they may eventually aid in pinpointing the causes.

Brain Chemistry

Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that have a role to play in depression. Transition in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neural circuits for maintaining mood stability plays a vital role in depression and how it is treated.

Inherited Traits

Low-grade depression is common in people whose blood relatives suffer from the same/similar condition. Researchers suggest that genes may be involved in causing depression and similar conditions.

Life Events

As is the case with depression in full swing, traumatic events such as financial problems, loss of a loved one, or high-stress levels can trigger low-grade depression in some people.


If your doctor suspects you have low-grade depression, an assessment may be carried that includes:

Physiological Assessment

The doctor may carry out a physical examination and ask questions about your health to determine the cause of your depression. In some cases, it can be due to an underlying physical health problem.

Laboratory/Diagnostic Tests

Your healthcare advisor may ask you to undergo lab tests to rule out other medical conditions that may have caused symptoms of low-grade depression.

Psychological Evaluation

An evaluation like this may include discussing how you feel, what you think, your behavior, and other questions that may help pinpoint the cause. This evaluation helps determine whether you suffer from any other condition that affects your mood, such as seasonal affective disorder, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

Symptoms caused by low-grade depression can, however, vary from person to person. 

What Should You Do When Depressed?

Self-care helps. If you experience even the mildest form of depression, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind: 

  • Eat a varied and nutritious diet.
  • Aim for a moderately intense 30-minute exercise on most days. Scale up and exercise vigorously if you can do so.
  • Sleep well and ensure you have a restful sleeping environment.
  • Take your medicines properly. Inform your doctor about any supplements or herbal medications you are consuming.
  • Find things to do that you enjoy.
  • Seek out supportive friends and those who care about you.

If you have been diagnosed with low-grade Depression and your symptoms worsen, talk to your doctor.

Difference Between Low-Grade Depression and Major Depression

Words such as ‘major’ and ‘low-grade’ can be misleading and make it difficult to detect. But it is worth noting that low-grade depression can be as disruptive to one’s sense of happiness and well-being as major depression. Clinical depression and low-grade depression have many similar symptoms that include:

  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • negative thoughts
  • low self-esteem
  • feelings of guilt or shame 
  • trouble concentrating on any particular task

The significant difference between low-grade depression and major depression involves the duration and intensity of symptoms. Low-grade depression may not necessarily include all the signs of major depression. But it does not negate its negative impact on one’s quality of life. Episodes of low-grade depression and major depression can last for long periods. 

In comparison to major depression, low-grade depression is considered less severe. To pass off as major depression, an individual needs to experience its symptoms for two weeks only. However, major depressive disorder is not as lasting as low-grade depression. The symptoms of major depression resemble those of low-grade depression. But they are segregated by their severity levels. Those who are suffering from major depression will more likely experience suicidal ideation. 75% of those who experience low-grade depression will experience an episode of major depression. This makes it essential to seek treatment for mild depression, as it can quickly turn into a more severe condition.

Should I Get Help for Low-grade Depression?

Yes. While low-grade depression might feel like a natural reaction to what’s happening to us or in the world right now, those experiencing it might not be aware if they should get help for their low-grade depression symptoms. 

Also, most of the time, you may be compelled to think if it is worth seeking professional assistance since the symptoms aren’t severe. But as is the case of any depression or mental health condition, it is essential to speak to a mental health professional if you notice persistent symptoms. 

A mental healthcare provider can provide resources and help you assess any treatments that might be helpful. This way, you can control your mental health and begin finding solutions for improving your low-grade depression. 

Treatment for Low-Grade Depression

The treatment for low-grade depression often requires a patient to take antidepressants prescribed by a mental health professional. Talk therapy is a common component of treatment for low-grade depression. Recovery can involve one or both of these treatments. Your healthcare provider will determine a plan that works for you.

If an individual is suffering from low-grade depression, they are advised to maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid aggravating their symptoms. They must eat healthily, exercise for several days, and abstain from drugs and alcohol. Self-care is key to recovering from low-level depression.

The two main treatments are medications and talk therapy. It depends upon factors such as:

  • Severity of your symptoms,
  • Your personal preferences,
  • Your desire to address emotional issues,
  • Your ability to tolerate medications,
  • Previous treatment methods, and 
  • Other emotional problems you might have.


While there are no sure-shot ways to prevent low-grade depression, there are strategies that may help keep symptoms at bay:

  • Reach out to friends and family to weather rough spells;
  • Control stress, increase your resilience, and boost your self-esteem;
  • Get treated at the slightest visibility of symptoms to prevent symptoms from worsening; and
  • Get long-term maintenance treatment to prevent a relapse of symptoms.

Low-grade depression is majorly ignored but it can turn out to be chronic and can badly affect our mental health. To cure, self-care plays a vital role. Download your complete self-care toolkit today for your mental well-being.

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