Some people feel depression less intensely than others. This may be because they’re at different stages of depression.

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The way people experience depression symptoms can vary. Your symptoms may differ from those of someone else. The severity of symptoms can indicate the depression stage.

Depression is common and contributes to disability worldwide. An estimated 300 million people around the globe live with depressive symptoms.

Some researchers believe that staging mental health conditions like depression can protect against a one-size-fits-all approach that may result in under or over treating some individuals. A 2017 model based on this idea categorizes depression into four stages.

The wellness stage is without sustained emotional upset. Interventions in this stage involve nurturing life skills that promote positive mental health, to prevent the onset of depression.

In the distress phase, you might experience mild or moderate emotional upset. The duration of these episodes is relatively short. Peer support and self-care are the primary interventions for this stage.

If emotionally distressing experiences last several weeks and are severe enough to impair regular functioning, this is the depressive disorder stage.

Health care interventions include medication and therapy, with the goal of remission and recovery.

The refractory or recurrent stage features depressive disorder that’s resistant to treatment or prone to relapsing.

The treatment goal is stabilization, usually attempted with mental health care supports like additional medications and intensive psychosocial interventions.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR) lists nine depression symptoms.

According to the DSM-5-TR, you must have five or more of the following symptoms to receive a diagnosis for depression. One of the symptoms you experience must include reduced of pleasure, interest or depressed mood.

These symptoms include:

  • depressed mood
  • reduction in interest or pleasure
  • sleep changes
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • energy changes
  • reduced attention and concentration
  • psychomotor changes
  • weight and appetite changes
  • suicidal thoughts

The DSM-5-TR lists the following types of depressive disorders:

There are a few ways you can try to cope with depression.

Seek social support

Even though you may not feel social, regular contact with friends and family can make it easier to manage depression.

It’s OK to set boundaries with someone who causes you stress. But it can also be helpful to participate in nurturing social connections.

There’s even research connecting social support and mental health recovery. Some ideas include:

  • depression recovery communities
  • group activities like team sports
  • special interest groups like gardening or art

If you’re not up for face-to-face contact, even a simple text chat with a friend or family member can help.

Maintain a routine

Research from 2016 shows that time structure can ease depression symptoms. Having a daily routine can provide this structure.

Using an app with alarms can help you stick to a schedule, particularly if depression is impacting your memory or motivation.

You can try setting consistent sleep and wake times to counter the effect depression has on your sleep schedule.

Scheduling meals and a personal hygiene routine can give you additional anchors throughout your day. Designated times for exercise, a hobby, and social contact can also help.

Focus on physical health

Your physical health affects the way your brain functions and can impact depression symptoms. You can support physical health by targeting a few key areas:

  • consistent, restorative sleep
  • nutritious food
  • regular exercise
  • stress reduction
  • reduce alcohol intake
  • maintain hydration

Small changes can be easier to maintain, and every little bit helps.

Try setting an alarm for an afternoon walk or stretching exercise. Swap soda for water. Make changes one at a time and see if you can maintain them.

Depression is treatable. The tricky part is that it can reduce your motivation, which can interfere with whether you get support.

You might be tempted to wait it out. If you’re in the distress stage of depression, your symptoms may pass on their own.

But if symptoms persist, they can affect areas of your life such as your:

  • physical health
  • employment
  • relationships
  • personal hygiene
  • home maintenance
  • finances
  • safety

If you think depression is impacting important areas of your life, it may be time to seek professional support.

Depression stages reflect symptom severity.

In the early stages, you might not need professional support. Symptoms might be mild and pass on their own.

But once depression becomes more established, it can impact important areas of your life like your physical health and personal relationships. At this stage, professional help can make a positive difference.

Self-care strategies like establishing a routine and focusing on physical health can help you cope with depression and manage its symptoms.