Mild vs. Moderate Depression – What’s the Difference?

If you’ve been anywhere near social media for the past several years, you’ve probably noticed a big shift in the conversation surrounding mental illness. More and more people, including well-known celebrities, have started speaking out about their own mental health battles in an effort to destigmatize these issues and encourage others to seek care for themselves. Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Trevor Noah, Kerry Washington, and J.K. Rowling have all been honest and open about their struggles, according to Everyday Health.

As mental health issues step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, you may be wondering if you yourself are dealing with something that might be clinically diagnosable, or that might require medication. Everyone feels sad and down sometimes, so it can be quite difficult to know if what you’re feeling is just a “normal” reaction to some particular trigger or a more serious condition that could require help through therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

First, you should be aware that “depression” isn’t just one single thing that you either have or you don’t; it comes in different levels.

While mental health professionals could go into a lot of detail about the differences, for our purposes we’ll just talk about mild and moderate depression. There is such a thing as a more severe form of depression that can sometimes be accompanied by serious effects (like hallucinations, for instance), but that form is much less common. There are different labels for the two more common strains; some experts use the terms “minor depression” and “major depression” (sometimes also called “minor depressive disorder” and “major depressive disorder”), while others use “mild” and “moderate.” We’ll use mild and moderate in this post, but be aware that other experts might use the terms “minor” and “major” to express the same thing.

Writing for Health Central, Jerry Kennard explains that there are two “core symptoms” associated with depression: (1) A persistent low mood/sadness, and (2) A lack of interest in or motivation to do activities that you once wanted to do. While these are the two “core” symptoms important to a diagnosis, there are lots of other related symptoms that professionals look for when evaluating a person for depression, such as: trouble accomplishing tasks, avoidance of social activities, weight gain or loss of appetite, trouble concentrating, fatigue, sleep problems, feelings of guilt, feelings of worthlessness, and sluggish feelings/motions.

The difference between mild and moderate depression is basically the number of symptoms you have, how long you’ve experienced them, and how much they’re interfering with your everyday life.

Kennard says that to meet the conditions for mild depression, you have to have at least one of the core symptoms, and “usually no more than four related symptoms, and you have to be experiencing them for two weeks or longer. If depression is identified and addressed at the mild stage, you might be able to recover from it without medication. If you try your own interventions and find them unhelpful, though, then you should definitely consult a mental health expert rather than just hope that the problem will eventually go away.

People with moderate depression, however, usually experience both core symptoms and four or more related symptoms. (The same two-week guideline applies.) Moderate depression usually requires some kind of intervention, like therapy, medication, or both.

For both types of depression, the symptoms that sufferers experience might not necessarily be in reaction to a particular cause. For instance, an event like a trauma, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a difficult break-up could very easily trigger symptoms like the ones that occur in depression, but in people without depression, these symptoms start to fade away after time. With depression, though – either mild or moderate – you might find that either the symptoms linger for a long time or the symptoms don’t even have a single event that they can be traced back to.

In an upcoming post, we’ll take a look both at some behaviors that you might not realize are signs of depression and some tips for what to do if you see yourself in these signs.

Depression sufferers often feel like there’s nothing they can do to help themselves feel better. If you feel this way and would like to talk to someone about making a change, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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