A person with low-grade depression will experience the same symptoms of clinical depression, but they’ll be more subtle.

Many of us have experienced the feeling of being stuck on autopilot, going through the day without energy or excitement. Sometimes we can attribute it to having an “off day,” and the feeling usually passes.

While it’s common to experience temporary sadness in response to challenging life circumstances, feeling depressed does not have to become your state of being.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression and getting help early on can prevent the development of a serious mental health condition.

Also known as mild depression, low-grade depression involves symptoms considered less intense than severe depression. For example, a person with low-grade depression may feel sad, sluggish, and unmotivated on a smaller scale.

In many cases, low-grade depression doesn’t significantly impact an individual’s ability to function, which explains why some people with mild depressive symptoms don’t know they are depressed.

“Low-grade depression is still depression and should still be taken seriously because the average person that experiences those symptoms may be one life event away from moderate to severe depression,” says Melanie Hall, LCPC, owner and psychotherapist of Insights Therapeutic Services.

“At its lowest level, it is what some have named in the past feeling ‘blue’ – a sense that you are not as fulfilled in life as you could be.”

Low-grade depression can fall under persistent depressive disorder (also known as dysthymia), which involves less severe depressive symptoms that last for at least two years.

Other types of depression

There are many other types of depression to be aware of:

  • Major depression: this involves depressive symptoms that last for a minimum of 2 weeks, usually affecting a person’s ability to function
  • Perinatal and postpartum depression: a form of major depression that occurs in women during pregnancy or after giving birth
  • Seasonal affective disorder: this involves mood changes that coincide with seasonal changes, usually beginning in late fall, and symptoms subside in the spring and summer months
  • Depression with symptoms of psychosis: this is a severe form of depression that involves symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations

Numerous mood and behavior changes can be a sign of low-grade depression. Here are symptoms to look for:

  • feeling sad
  • lacking motivation
  • low energy
  • a tendency to isolate and withdraw from others
  • trouble focusing
  • feeling hopeless
  • difficulty sleeping
  • changes in appetite

Low-grade depression can also be considered “functional depression,” Hall explains.

These individuals are your peers that may have bouts of low motivation, isolating moments where they don’t want to engage, or may describe a feeling of discontentment with life.

Sometimes people feel a bit of emptiness and mood swings that do not always have an identified trigger.

With many mental health conditions, genetics and environment play a role in the development of symptoms.


Depression does have a genetic component and tends to run in families.

Suppose your family has a history of depression. In that case, there’s a good chance that depression may be something that people in your family will experience at some point in their lives, Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor, explains.

Life circumstances

Your external environment can be a contributing factor, specifically how you choose to respond to it.

Burnout is a big culprit, wanting a change in life and feeling stuck, chronic stress about a situation or even feeling helpless watching friends or family endure a situation,” says Hall.

“Even with the current times where we are living within the pandemic, increasing crime and financial fluctuations; clinicians have seen an uptick where people are wanting to focus on staying mentally well to manage their symptoms.”


Feeling stressed for a prolonged period also plays a role.

Sometimes people experience significant changes and stressors in their lives that can lead to them experiencing low-grade depression.

Dr. Lira de la Rosa states that any change in life can cause disruption and may lead to someone feeling depressed as they adjust to these changes.

Often, people with low-grade depression get used to the mild symptoms and, as a result, don’t seek treatment.

But early intervention is crucial. There are various ways to treat low-grade depression. In many cases, it takes a multi-faceted approach, combining one or more of the following:


Therapy is a great place to start. Speaking one-on-one with a licensed professional can provide greater insight into your state of mind and help you devise a plan of action to heal.

Psychotherapy allows an individual to dump their thoughts and feelings in a safe space with someone that is trained to respond without judgment, Hall explains.

A therapist can help individuals with realistic evidence-based coping strategies that help relieve symptoms.


When it comes to low-grade depression, it is important to assess the type of symptoms that accompany the depressed mood.

Dr. Lira de la Rosa says some people may benefit from education about low-grade depression, which may help them monitor their symptoms.

According to a 2019 systematic review, psychoeducational interventions can be effective for caregivers of people living with dementia. The study suggests that psychoeducational interventions can increase:

  • knowledge and understanding of dementia
  • problem-solving skill development
  • ability to facilitate social support

Participating in group interventions improved the caregiver’s self-efficacy, quality of life, as well as symptoms of:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • insomnia

Mindfulness techniques

It can be helpful to incorporate more mindfulness into your daily routine. This can include mindful breathing, mindful observation, and mindful awareness.

There are many health benefits of being present and connecting to your senses, which include reducing the symptoms of depression.

While it’s human nature to have low moments now and then, feeling depressed does not have to turn into your way of existence.

By learning about the symptoms, causes, and treatment for low-grade depression and taking action early, you can prevent more serious health implications in the future.

The good news is that many treatments are available for low-grade depression. It is helpful to consider what symptoms you are experiencing and what type of treatment feels more aligned with your life.