“Nobody rides life on a high,” Michelle Obama said recently during an appearance on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “And I think it’s important for young people to know that… No, you’re not going to feel great all the time and there are moments in all our lives – particularly in the middle of a pandemic and racial unrest – you’re going to feel a kind of way about it, so give yourself a break.”
In August last year, the former first lady opened up about experiencing low-grade depression on The Michelle Obama Podcast. “It’s turning off the noise that is upsetting, you know, knowing that I can’t keep reading all the feeds that are fuelling my anxiety and taking a break from it,” she continued, adding she used a similar coping method while she was living in the White House. Going for walks, exercising and being surrounded by friends and family are all things that make her feel good, too, she said.
In a year that has been difficult for everyone, mood swings have become commonplace for most. But what qualifies as low-grade depression, and how do you know if you have it? Below, experts – Dr Tara Swart, author of The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life, and Dr Tosin, known as Mind Body Doctor – detail the signs and symptoms you should be aware of.
What is low-grade depression?
“Feeling down or sad at some point in life is normal and we all go through a range of emotions,” explains Dr Tosin. “For a lot of people this is often momentary, but for some these feelings can persist and show up subtly in their daily life, and this is often what we refer to as low-grade depression. It’s the chronic feeling of sadness and feeling low in mood and energy. These feelings may have been around for so long that many people may not even realise that they are depressed. Hence low-grade depression can often go unnoticed and undiagnosed. It’s important to realise that even though this may present as a milder form of depression, it is still significant and requires care and attention.”
It can show up in other ways, too. “Low-grade depression can also show up as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), or postnatally as ‘baby blues’,” adds Dr Swart, who recently launched a neuroplasticity based mindfulness and visualisation app, Spark Up.
What are the symptoms of low-grade depression?
“The main feature is feeling low in mood for most of the day, and for more days than not,” says Dr Tosin. “Given the chronic nature of low-grade depression, these feelings can last for years and gradually start to have an impact on daily life, work and relationships.”
Some of the symptoms can include:
- Overeating or poor appetite
- Tiredness or lack of energy
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Loss of interest in daily activities and withdrawing from others
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and anger
According to Dr Swart, other symptoms can include poor memory, a loss of libido, or simply not enjoying the things you once did.
What are the differences between low-grade depression and severe depression?
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. During the peak of the pandemic in the UK, the number of people suffering from it rose. But what are the differences between low-grade and severe depression? “Severe depression is any or some of the listed symptoms above, but over a sustained period of time (longer than two weeks), and of a nature and severity that is debilitating to normal life, work and relationships,” explains Dr Swart. “In severe depression, there may also be suicidal thoughts or tendencies, catatonia, inability to eat or drink, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and worthlessness; a sense of derealisation or depersonalisation (‘this doesn’t seem real’ or ‘I don’t feel that I am real’). Severe depression requires medical treatment, and maybe hospitalisation.”
What can someone do to help their symptoms?
For most people, suffering from depression can mean simply getting from one day to the next is a struggle. But seeking help when you need it is vitally important. “For severe depression, it is vital to seek specialised psychiatric help,” advises Dr Swart. “For low-grade depression, you can speak to a GP, a therapist or try to manage the symptoms yourself by taking a break from work or your usual routine. And by focusing on self-care such as gentle exercise, mediation, staying well-hydrated, eating nourishing and easily digestible food, keeping regular sleep and wake times (and not sleeping over 8h 15m, as this is depressogenic), talking with family and friends, journaling, and connecting with nature.”
Dr Tosin agrees, and recommends “leaning on those around you and loved ones”. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to talk about how you are feeling.” she says. “It’s often the hardest step to take, but it’s so important to open up and not to struggle in silence.”
This was originally published on Vogue UK | Susan Devaney