Treatments for Mild Depression: A Look at the Most Effective Options

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What is Mild Depression?

The severity of depression varies from person to person. Mild depression is one of four possible categories of depression that also includes moderate and severe depression and dysthymia. The term ‘mild’ should not detract from the fact that depression, in whatever form is an illness that is likely to benefit from some form of intervention.

How is Mild Depression Diagnosed?

For a diagnosis of depression to be made at least one of two core symptoms and at least five additional symptoms of depression must be present. The core symptoms are:

  • Persistent sadness or low mood.
  • Marked reduction or pleasure in activities previously found enjoyable.

Mild depression is diagnosed on the basis of the person experiencing at least one of these core symptoms and no more than five additional symptoms that may last for a few weeks. If the number of symptoms is higher the diagnosis will reflect this. For example a person with moderate depression will experience both core symptoms and more than five additional symptoms whereas someone with severe depression is likely to experience all symptoms which will interfere greatly with their normal functioning.

Treatment for Mild Depression: Options Available

Treatments for mild depression are varied and do not necessarily include medication. Many people experience mild depression and find their symptoms subside after a time without any specific intervention. The reasons for this may vary according to the resilience of the individual, their lifestyle, the support structure around them and the circumstances that may have contributed to their depression. Simply hoping that depression will pass is a flawed strategy however, and there is always the possibility it may worsen if action isn’t taken.

Computer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT)

Although a relatively recent treatment option, CCBT appears to achieve good results. CCBT is an interactive program which allows the person to access therapy from the comfort of their home using a home computer. Various independent agencies have set up such services but some are free if accessed via your family doctor.

Self-Help for Mild Depression

Many of the recommended treatments for mild depression involve some form of self-help, these include:

Exercise. There is an ever expanding body of research that supports the use of exercise for mild depression. Some family doctors even prescribe exercise under supervision. Exercise boosts endorphins and this makes people feel better. It also has the effect of improving mood and reducing anxiety. Any movement is good but the most effective exercise is around 30 minutes a day for five days a week. Exercises may include, brisk walking, swimming, yoga, cycling or anything that gets the heart pumping and the body moving.

Books and DVDs

Care needs to be taken when considering this type of material. Always look to see if the product is written by a qualified practitioner (e.g. a licensed psychologist) and preferably endorsed by a professional body. Even so, it can take quite a lot of self-motivation to follow activities in a book or on a DVD and this tends to be lacking in the person with mild depression. Failure to complete the program can then feed into the negative thinking the person already has. Partly for this reason it is better to seek out a program where some interaction and feedback is built into the process; either face-to-face, via the telephone, or on screen via CCBT (see above).


Fatty, sugary, high carbohydrate, highly processed foods make people feel sluggish. Some nutrition experts suggest a Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on fish, olive oil, fruits and salads, is a far better alternative. It is possible that olive oil increases the level of serotonin in the brain and acts as a natural form of antidepressant.


Sanchez-Villegas A., Delgado-Rodriguez M., Alonso A (et al) Association of the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern with the Incidence of Depression. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2009. Oct; 66(10): 1090-8.

Timonen M, Liukkonen T; Management of depression in adults. BMJ. 2008 Feb 23;336(7641):435-9.