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Low-Grade Depression, The Invisible Mental Health Issue

Woman sleeping on train slumped forward on to table.
Image credit: photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash.

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Have you noticed that there are times when you feel lethargic, or lack motivation to do things—even things you usually enjoy? Are there times when you feel like you're stuck in mud? Even something as seemingly benign as doing laundry feels hard.

Yet, you go to work and your performance is exemplary. You may be very active, continue to complete excellent work with the PTA, or while coaching your child's softball team. On the outside, it appears like nothing is wrong, while what is happening, on the inside, is disguised. 

So often when we think of depression, we think of it as a debilitating disorder that makes it difficult for us to function. Low-grade depression, however, is somewhat different.

  • We may experience it on a consistent basis, kind of in the background, or episodically.
  • We may not even know that we have it because we still function, and often extremely well, in our professional and personal lives.
  • We can maintain appearances to our friends and family and do the everyday routine things that need to be done, and we can do them well. Therefore, others may not recognize our depression, and we might not even recognize it in ourselves. 

Everyday Tasks Are Harder

The reason I call low-grade depression an 'invisible phenomenon' is because there are seldom external indicators like what is seen in moderate or severe depression. We may still laugh, yet not as often. Most of us continue to do daily chores and routines, where with more severe depression, that may be lacking or absent.

However, those who experience low-grade depression may notice that it is more challenging to accomplish what we used to. 

Low-grade depression tends to be subtle as opposed to more severe depression. Thus, we may be confused about what we are experiencing and it often is mislabeled by us and others around us. We may unintentionally make excuses for our moods and behaviors by saying that we are lazy, getting older, or that we don't have the physical energy that we used to.

Our Usual Energy is Lacking

Functioning with low-grade depression often means that there needs to be an internal push to move forward with tasks, where before it just naturally happened with little thought. We may start to turn down more social invitations than before because participating feels too hard and as if it takes too much energy. Social outings that used to be fun may start to feel more like work than pleasure.

What also sometimes happens is that we begin to beat ourselves up. We start to judge ourselves thinking things like, "What is wrong with me?" Others in our lives may criticize and judge us by complaining that we don't want to go out, or that we don't call to talk on the phone anymore, or socialize like we used to. This may begin to wear away at our self-esteem and exacerbate the depression. 

Is Low-Grade Depression Our New Normal?

Low-grade depression is often a misunderstood mental health issue and often not properly diagnosed. Although it is always a good idea to rule out a medical issue as the underlying cause, often our physician might overlook low-grade depression.

Thus, we go to our physician believing that these feelings of fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, and over or undereating mean that something is wrong physically. Yet, when we discover that we are in optimal physical health this can add to our confusion about what is occuring within us. 

A part of us realizes something is not right, but we just cannot explain it. We may have felt this gray shadow over our days for so long that we begin to believe it has become our new normal. 

They're aware that they're not particularly happy in their lives, or they're not feeling particularly good about their lives, but they're functioning.

Michael D. Yapok, clinical psychologist.

Develop Compassion 

Low-grade depression is something that happens to us. We can do something about it, once it is properly identified. Instead of judging ourselves or others, we need to begin to develop self-compassion. If someone we love is experiencing low-grade depression, it is vital for us to give them empathy, emotional support, and understanding. 

The thought of doing anything to address this on our own may feel impossible or overwhelming. But if we can make a commitment to ourselves to try a few simple things we may be able to shift the feelngs of low-grade depression, even temporarily.

Even just a little movement, or small adjustments, may biologically and energetically shift how we are feeling. 

We can start with small, non-strenuous, goals such as: 

  • Stand, walk, or do some type of exercise for five minutes.
  • Listen to an upbeat song and dance in our living room.
  • Throw a ball or squeaky toy with our dog.
  • Play in the park with our child.
  • Sit in the sunshine.
  • Begin to journal, or practice mindfulness.
  • Speak with a psychotherapist.

Let Us Help 

If you struggle with feelings of lethargy, have difficulty concentrating, and feel as if you have lost your zest for life, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance & Counseling, located on Long Island, can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people find methods to cope with low-grade depression and rediscover the sunshine hiding behind the gray clouds.

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