What is the difference between depression and low mood?

“I’m so depressed” has become a familiar expression when we’re feeling a bit down in the dumps, stressed or anxious. But how do you know if what you’re feeling is more intense than a low mood and requires professional advice? 

When you’re not feeling yourself, it can be hard to differentiate between a low mood and depression. Many people compare emotions to a spectrum of colour – when we’re feeling positive and happy, our emotions fall on the light end of the colour spectrum. Inversely, our negative and unhappy emotions will fall on the dark end of the spectrum.

Nearly all of us will experience a low mood at some point in our lifetime.

Low mood can leave people feeling tired, irritable and sullen and is usually triggered by a specific life event, such as work pressures, financial worries or poor health. For some people, these bouts of low mood are short-term and generally manageable.

However, for others, these feelings can continue over a prolonged period of time and can begin to have an impact on our ability to function, which is when these feelings can take a more problematic manifestation in our lives.

So how can you tell if what you’re experiencing is fleeting or something more severe that you should pay attention to?

Firstly we need to be able to identify the difference between the two.

What is low mood?

Low mood can be described as a short period of feeling tired, frustrated or having low self-esteem. These feelings tend to dissipate within a few weeks and improve when the initial issues have been resolved. Actions such as getting more sleep, exercising or talking problems and worries through with friends and family can help to alleviate these feelings of low mood.

Although a low mood can leave us feeling drained and not operating at our peak, it is not a psychological illness and tends to reflect the state of current events in our lives – passing over time.

What is depression?

Unlike a low mood, depression develops if a range of stress factors occur at the same time and continues over a prolonged period, lasting over two weeks or more. When we feel depressed, we tend to experience a persistent low mood, a lack of sex drive and a loss of interest in activities we would have previously enjoyed.  When left untreated, depression can leave us feeling extremely isolated and completely withdrawn from the world around us and is often the leading cause of suicide.

How do I know when I should get help?

Depression can affect people to different degrees, but if you find yourself unable to function in daily life or withdrawing from friends and family, it may be time to get help. Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide, reportedly affecting over 3 million people in the UK alone, so it is most important to remember that you are not alone.

Although recovery can feel like a long and unachievable process when you have depression, it is important to understand that help is the key way to get you back to feeling your best. As an evidence-based practice, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, in particular, is a highly recommended treatment for depression.

The independent organisation, National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, continuously recommend CBT for a wide range of mental health issues, and research shows that CBT offers long-term benefits for depression sufferers.


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What happens in CBT therapy?

When you decide to start CBT, you will work with your therapist to address some of your problems and develop positive thinking and behavioural patterns. If you have depression, you’re battling with a wide range of struggles and emotions that can cloud your overall judgement and perceptions of the world around you. With the help of your therapist, CBT will not only help you process your emotions but also challenge some of the negative beliefs and assumptions you have developed over time.

As leading  CBT providers in the UK and London, and strong advocates of the benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy, we are proud to state that we achieve an 87% recovery rate for people that complete our therapy services. We believe that when it comes to depression, it is important to be able to identify the signs early and take the necessary precautions to protect your mental wellbeing.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, find out how CBT can help by calling one of our BABCP-accredited therapists.


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What is the best treatment for Depression?
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If you have clinical depression, some symptoms you might experience are:

  • Unhappiness or persistent low mood
  • Feeling worthless and inadequate
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Guilt and anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping; changes in appetite
  • Loss of libido, reduced interest in sex
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness towards the future
  • Social withdrawal or isolation from loved ones
  • Avoiding certain situations like going to work

Depressive symptoms can last for days and weeks, perhaps months, without expert advice and treatment.

They might affect your performance at work, and according to official statistics, depression, anxiety, or stress is the cause of 12.5 million working days each year.

It is a vicious cycle; performance pressures and job insecurity can trigger anxiety and additional stress, which only adds to the issue. It’s vital to get help if you are feeling persistently unhappy.

How does CBT treat depression?

First of all, depression is treatable. You can go to your GP, who will be able to help you determine the best course of action, whether it’s medication, talking therapies, or maybe both.

CBT helps patients realise how their thoughts affect their feelings and behaviour. Then CBT teaches them the skills to make a positive change in their life.

Given the evidence-based tools in CBT, depressed people will learn from mental health professionals how to control or eliminate their symptoms.

Some actions you can take to improve your low mood:

Depression Symptoms
  • Do more: Doing more will help you feel better, despite feeling tired and depressed
  • Get some exercise: walk, swim, go to the gym, cycle. Choose something you like doing, though. Otherwise, it could prove harder to find the motivation to get started.
  • Pamper yourself: Do something you enjoy. Visit or contact a friend or family. Merely getting a quick catch-up call or meeting can make all the difference.
  • Observe your surroundings: If you have an object that is comforting or familiar holding, it can help with a bout of anxiety. Think of what you see, hear, smell.
  • Write down your thoughts and feelings: Get them out of your head and on paper. Start by planning two small things each day: something that gave/will give you a sense of pleasure and also something that will provide a sense of achievement.
  • Take things one step at a time: Planning can get overwhelming, so break down tasks into smaller achievable chunks.


You are not alone. 

When we feel depressed, we tend to do less because our fatigue or negative thinking impacts our will to do things.

Some of us don’t go to work or even leave the house altogether; we stop doing things we used to enjoy, and we might stop seeing our friends and families.

Onebright is here to help you look forward to tomorrow. Get in touch with the team today, and we can match you to a licenced therapist who has experience in treating depression.

Book an Appointment
We offer online, phone or face to face therapy. Contact us to get matched to the right therapist for you.
Book appointment

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