Feeling sad, blue, down in the dumps or even unhappy or miserable can strike anyone at any time of life. Many people feel this way from time to time for short periods. However, clinical depression is different; it is a mood disorder in which feelings of sadness, loss, frustration or anger can interfere with daily life for an extended period of time. Clinical depression can come in a number of degrees of severity, from minor depression to major depression.
Minor Depression Symptoms
The general symptoms of depression can include any on this list; minor depression symptoms are characterized by having two to four of the symptoms on this list for at least two weeks:
• A low or irritable mood that persists
• Loss of enjoyment pleasure in activities that are usually enjoyed
• Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) or sleeping too much
• Big changes in appetite that often cause weight gain or weight loss
• Fatigue, tiredness and a general lack of energy
• Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and self-hate
• Difficulty in concentrating
• A change in reflexes and movement (slower or faster)
• Lack of social or physical activity and avoiding these activities
• Feelings of hopeless and helplessness
• Chronic thoughts about death and suicide
There can be sudden bursts of anger as well as a lack of pleasure derived from activities that normally bring you pleasure and make you happy, including sex. Low self-esteem also tends to be common in cases of depression.
Children who are depressed might not show the same types of symptoms as adults. With children, watch for changes in sleep patterns, school work and behavior. If you suspect that your child could be depressed, be sure and talk with a health care provider.
The main depression types include:
Major depression. If you have five or more of the symptoms above for two weeks or more, you might have major depression. It tends to continue for 6 months or more if left untreated.
Minor depression. Minor depression is having less than five depression symptoms for two weeks or more. Minor depression is similar to major depression, except it only has two to four symptoms.
Atypical depression. Symptoms include oversleeping, overeating, feeling very sensitive to rejection and/or weighted down. This type occurs in about one-third of depression patients.
Dysthymia. A mild, low-grade type of depression that can go on for years if left untreated.
Other types include:
Postpartum. Women can feel “down” after having a baby, but postpartum depression has more severe symptoms, as with major depression.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Depression symptoms occur about 1 week before the menstrual period and go away after the cycle.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Occurs during the fall and winter months due to a lack of sunlight.
Depression can also alternate with manic states or mania. This is known as bipolar disorder or manic depression. Overall, depression seems to be more common in women than in men, but it’s possible that this is because women seek help for their minor depression symptoms more often. Minor depression can often lead to more severe types of depression if left untreated, so it should be taken seriously.
Minor Depression Causes
Depression is often hereditary, running in families. It could be due to genes (inherited) or from behaviors picked up at home, or a combination of both. Even if genetics cause someone to be more predisposed to developing depression, an unhappy or stressful life event can trigger an episode of depression in anyone.
Other factors can cause or exacerbate depression, including:
• Alcohol and drug abuse
• Medical conditions, treatments and medications such as:
– Long-term pain
– Certain types of cancer
– Sleeping pattern issues
– Steroid medications
– An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
• Stressful life events, such as:
– Abuse or neglect
– A breakup with a significant other
– Some types of cancer
– The death of a family member or friend
– Divorce, including parents’ divorce
– Illness in the family
– Failing a class
– Job loss
– Social isolation (a common cause of depression in the elderly)
Minor Depression Treatment: Home Care
If depressed for two weeks or more, you should contact a doctor or health care professional before symptoms get worse. Regardless of the type of depression you have and its severity, the following home self-care steps can help:
• Get plenty of sleep
• Eat a healthy and nutritious diet
• Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs
• Exercise regularly, daily if possible
• Spend time with family and friends
• Seek out activities that make you happy
• If you are religious or spiritual, talk to clergy or a spiritual advisor
• Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, qigong or other types of relaxation and stress-relief methods
• Start taking Omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement or by eating more fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel
If you suspect Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the fall or winter months, try light therapy by using a lamp that mimics sunlight. Moderate to severe depression will likely require a combination of lifestyle changes, talk therapy and medication. Minor depression symptoms can sometimes be relieved with an active self-care program using the steps listed above.
When to Seek Help and Contact a Professional
If you ever have thoughts of harming yourself or others, call 911, a suicide hotline or go to the emergency room to seek help.
Contact a doctor if:
• You hear voices or see things that are not really there
• You have three or more symptoms of depression
• You cry often without cause
• Depression symptoms have been affecting your work, school, or relationships for more than two weeks
• You have issues with alcohol and/or are using it to self-medicate
• You suspect a current medication could be making you feel depressed; however, DO NOT stop taking medications before talking to your doctor
Minor Depression Treatment: Your Office Visit
When you seek minor depression treatment, expect your health care provider to confirm exactly how severe your depression is. He or she will look for the minor depression causes through doing a:
• Mental health interview
• Health history
• Physical examination
Talk with your health care provider about what you suspect could be your minor depression causes. Treatment will depend upon the severity of symptoms. For minor depression symptoms, self-care and counseling might be enough for effective minor depression treatment.