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Mild Depression: No Small Task

A person wearing a baseball cap looking out over a cityscape at sunset.

Chronic unemployment, a divorce in the family, having a difficult childhood—these are examples of events or contexts that can lead to a type of depression known as minor depression, or persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). The word minor, though, may be something of a misnomer, because the experience of depression does not feel minor to the individual or family and often incurs other costs, such as financial or relational. However, the term simply refers to the severity of the depression.

In minor depression, one of the most common experiences is a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, and/or the lack of taking pleasure from most things in life. People often describe it as, “I’ve always felt this way.” This usually indicates the person has been struggling with low mood since childhood or adolescence, which can often stem from upsetting circumstances during those formative years. The long duration, or chronicity, of the depression, is another feature of minor depression. This is in contrast to major depression, which usually lasts a shorter amount of time but tends to feel more intense and with more symptoms (i.e. disturbed sleep patterns, very low energy, trouble concentrating or making decisions, negative thinking, etc.).

In general, with minor depression, the symptoms overlap with major depression but are typically less intense, fewer in number, and stick around longer in a kind of “low grade” depression form. If all of this is making you feel depressed already, not to worry. Read on.

Treatment for Depression

The good news is: “Yet treatment can be effective in up to 80 percent of depressed patients—even those suffering from very severe depression” (Preston, O’Neal, & Talaga, 73). Treatment for depression, even minor depression, usually includes some combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, as better outcomes have been observed when therapy and medication are used together, versus medication alone. A medical doctor or other medical health professional authorized to prescribe medication can work with people to determine what medications work best. Mental health therapists are trained to work with people to address their thinking, behaviors, feelings, and relationships. One of the most common features of depression is a pattern of negative thinking. A therapist at Real Life Counseling can help you identify and address negative thinking.

Here a few examples of cognitive distortions or ways of thinking that often reinforce negativity:

  • Filtering: When positive experiences are filtered out and only negative experiences are remembered or emphasized. When filtering becomes a pattern, this process usually happens unconsciously. Giving conscious attention to thoughts is the first step to resolving negative thinking.
  • Overgeneralization: Taking one or a few negative experiences and generalizing them as the ways things are. For instance, being turned down for a few job interviews and thinking, “I won’t be able to get a job.” Or generalizing experience as a reflection of character or value, as in, “He cheated on me. I guess I’m not worth being loyal to.”
  • Polarized (Black-or-White) thinking: A pattern of thinking consistently in terms of polar opposites, such as “right or wrong,” “either/or,” “this or that.” Rarely is a middle-ground or gray areas considered. A common example of this in relationships is when people get into an argument, and the thinking pattern emerges, “I’m right about this issue, and she’s wrong” or “He never listens to me.”
  • Personalization: When events, comments, actions, etc. are construed as being personal criticisms, attacks, or otherwise negatively related to the person. For instance, a disgruntled look is interpreted as, “She dislikes me.” While there are times when a past event might not make this thought pattern completely ungrounded, the issue arises when the thought happens frequently and within various contexts.
  • Emotional Reasoning: Similar to personalization, this is when emotions are automatically taken as reality. For example, someone feels inadequate and thinks that means he is inadequate.

Generally, examining negative thoughts like these and implementing new ways of thinking will have an effect on one’s emotions. If practiced consistently over time, it is likely that someone will develop a new way of thinking that becomes habitual. One of the most important points to remember is that changing thought patterns is a skill that must be developed. It is not unlike an athlete training for a game or race. Would you expect someone to be able to perform a new skill if she or he came to practice only once in a while, or tried a skill only a few times and then declared it wasn’t working? It is no different with making changes to your thoughts when you are experiencing minor depression.

Changing your thought patterns takes knowledge, consistent implementation, commitment, and usually the help of a trained professional (similar to a coach who knows the game). Being patient and compassionate with yourself and others, and hanging in there while you hone new skills in dealing with minor depression will set you up for the growth you’re looking for.

Preston, J., ONeal, J. H., & Talaga, M. C. (2010). Handbook of clinical psychopharmacology for therapists (6th ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.