health

A heavy feeling, low motivation, and other telling signs of 'low-grade depression'.

In a recent episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, the former First Lady of the United States spoke about the burden that recent events have placed on her mental health.

"I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression," she said. "Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this [Trump] administration — watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out — is dispiriting.

"I'm waking up in the middle of the night because I'm worrying about something or there's a heaviness."

Watch: the difference between sadness and depression.


Video via Mamamia

Those feelings — lack of enthusiasm, worry, heaviness — will be familiar to many people right now. 

Research conducted during the first month of COVID-19 lockdown back in May found that, of the 13,829 Australians surveyed, one quarter (26.5 per cent) were experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression.

As trite as it may sound, we're living through an unprecedented challenge and we've all been impacted in one way or another. Home lives have changed, jobs have been lost or redefined, relationships reshaped. 

It's little wonder we are feeling the weight of it all.

But how do we deal with it? Are those feelings a sign of clinical depression? And at what point should we seek help?

Depressive symptoms versus depression.

Amanda Gordon is a clinical and health psychologist at Armchair Psychology in Sydney and the instructor of The Anxiety Coursean online resource developed by Mamamia

She explained that while 'low-grade depression' isn't a formal diagnosis, it's a very real thing.

"We would probably call it non-clinical depression," she told Mamamia. "It's absolutely something we understand as professionals and it's something that, yes, we have been seeing."

The most common signs she's observed among patients include loss of motivation, increased appetite, sleeping longer than usual and less communication with friends and family (often despite feelings of loneliness).

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Amanda describes this state using an analogy of a 1–100 scale of happiness. People who normally bounce around at 50 might now feel more like they're operating at 30. 

"This is not about people feeling terribly sad. It's just a bit harder to move through the atmosphere, like you have to push a little bit harder to get through it," she said.






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We’ve all been dealing with a lot of change in our lives and our communities. We’ve experienced the shock—and the aftershocks—of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. And all this is happening amid this life-altering pandemic, which has upended so much of life as we’ve always understood it. All this change can feel pretty heavy—and we’re often left to deal with it at a moment when we’re forced to spend more time alone—more time in our own heads—than we’re used to. I couldn’t think of anyone better to talk about all of this with than my friend and confidante, @michele__norris. In the next episode of The #MichelleObamaPodcast, we're talking about life during this strange and exhausting time. You can listen to our conversation now on @Spotify—link in my bio.

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While Amanda said that being in that kind of state can make people more vulnerable to teetering into mental illness, most people won't cross that threshold.

"With this non-clinical, low grade depression people are mostly functioning the way they always did, but just at slightly lower level," she said. "There's less energy, less connectedness, less joy, but they're getting on with it.

"Once clinical depression kicks in, then it can be very concerning because people can lose hope and their thinking becomes actually distorted."

Clinical depression is a severe mood disorder that interferes with all areas of a person's life, including work and social relationships. It often involves feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness and overwhelming sadness, which are experienced most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks.

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"Generalised [low-grade, non-clinical] depression is a response to a changed reality, whereas clinical depression is no longer about the reality," Amanda explained.

How to feel better.

There are simple ways to deal with that new heavy feeling.

Amanda says she can't stress the importance of exercise enough: "Even if it's cold, put on those runners and go for a brisk walk; being in the open air is really important."

Connecting with others is also helpful. So rather than emailing a colleague or texting a friend, for example, pick up the phone and talk to them. "And check in that they're okay instead of just asking for commiserations for how you're feeling. Turn it around a little," she said. "That's key to feeling better."

Also, do something that's meaningful to you, be it playing with your children or grandchildren, crafting, building something, reading, learning a new skill or planting a tree. 

"And live in the moment," Amanda said. "Try not to think about what tomorrow might look like but find the good stuff in today. That can be really important, as well."

Of course, when it comes to mental health — and depression, in particular — it's incredibly important not to self-diagnose.

"If you find that this depression or anxiety is interfering with the way you're coping, or if you're finding that you're not making good decisions or you can't re-motivate yourself, then seek help sooner rather than later," Amanda said.

But even if you simply need a bit of extra support right now, chat to your GP about next steps.

"A lot of people are seeking psychological help right now. So you wouldn't be alone if you chose to do so. There's no shame in it at all.

"A few sessions [with a mental health professional] could make an enormous difference to your sense of well-being."

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner.  If you're based in Australia and in need of immediate support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.

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