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What Is Low-Grade Depression?


Most people have an idea of what they think depression is like. When they think of “depression,” the word evokes images of sad faces and general lethargy. While many cases of depression can present this way, a lot of depressed people do not display such obvious symptoms.

Sufferers of depression can seem like well-adjusted people who show no clear behavioral health issues, however, they’re internally experiencing a mood disorder that can have serious repercussions for their health. = Dysthymia or low-grade depression is a form of depression where many people may not know they have it.  This is a mental health condition that is also known by several other names, including:

  • Low-level depression
  • High-functioning depression
  • Chronic low-grade depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder (PDD)

Although the descriptors “low-level,” “high-functioning,” and “low-grade” may suggest a relatively mild condition, that is misleading. This form of depression is, in fact, a serious disorder that can lead to long-term physical and psychological complications as well as a marked decline in overall quality of life.

Low-Grade Depression: The Basics

Low-grade depression is characterized by a persistently depressed mood of mild severity.

Outwardly, sufferers seem fine. Even the individual who has low-level depression often does not realize they have a medical problem. They become used to their chronic low mood, to the point where it becomes a “new normal” for them. If untreated, this type of depression can last for years.

About 3.6% of the population will experience low-level depression at some point during their lifetime. On average, low-level depression lasts for five years in adults.1

Most cases of low-grade depression have no clear cause. It is widely believed that this condition can be triggered by a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental stressors. People with low-level depression often also have substance abuse problems, anxiety disorders, or a chronic illness.

Symptoms of Low-Grade Depression

Depressed woman

Not all cases of low-level depression are alike. Symptoms vary, with some sufferers experiencing a wide variety of recognized symptoms and others developing only a few. The most common symptoms of low-grade depression are:

  • Eating too much or too little, with accompanying weight changes
  • Sleeping too much or too little           
  • Persistent fatigue       
  • Negative thoughts and moods
  • Low self-esteem
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to enjoy activities that used to bring pleasure           
  • Feelings of hopelessness or “emptiness”      
  • Poor concentration
  • Chronic difficulties with making decisions     

Sufferers of low-grade depression tend to experience one or more of these symptoms for most of the day, with occasional episodes of relief.

To be diagnosed with low-grade depression, an individual must experience two or more of these symptoms for at least two years. For minors, only one year of symptoms is required for diagnosis.

Low-Grade vs Major Depression

Low-grade depression is considered less severe than major depressive disorder (MDD). However, MDD is generally not as long-lasting as low-grade depression. To qualify for a diagnosis of major depression, an individual needs to experience MDD symptoms for only two weeks.

The symptoms of low-grade depression are similar to those associated with major depressive disorder. The main differences between the two disorders are the severity of symptoms—MDD sufferers are more likely to experience suicidal ideation—as well as their duration.

75% of individuals with low-grade depression will experience an episode of major depression. This is one reason why it is important to seek treatment for “mild” depression, as it can easily turn into a more serious condition.2

Treatment for Low-Grade Depression

Psychotherapist working with young woman

Treatment for low-grade depression often calls for the patient to take antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), as prescribed by a qualified mental health professional. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is another common component of depression treatment programs. Recovery from low-grade depression can involve one or both of these treatments. Your health-care provider will help you determine a treatment plan that works for you.

Persons suffering from low-grade depression are also advised to maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid aggravating their symptoms. Patients should attempt to eat healthily, exercise several days per week, and abstain from drugs and alcohol. Looking after your health is key to your recovery from low-level depression.

The behavioral health center at Crystal Run Healthcare is staffed by licensed clinical psychologists who have years of experience with treating depressive disorders. We have six locations across New York State, in Middletown, Newburgh, Goshen, Haverstraw and West Nyack. To learn more, visit us online at If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to call us at 845-703-6999.