What is Walking Depression?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Secretly unhappy? With a mind full of gloomy, hopeless thoughts? But you manage to carry on regardless? So have convinced yourself you can’t have depression?

It’s time to learn about ‘walking depression’.

What is walking depression?

It’s not a clinical term. It’s rather a short hand for describing long-term, ongoing mild depression. Mild enough you can keep on 'walking', talking, getting to work, seeming okay. Mild enough you can hide your symptoms from others.

But that's not to say that your depression isn't serious.

Sometimes this sort of mild depression can be the worst of all, because you are less likely to seek support or gain the concern of those around you. Meaning the depression can go on and on, even for years, changing your personality, and slowly eroding your hope for the future.

The signs of walking depression

Like all forms of depression, it involves:

  • negative, hopeless thoughts about yourself and the world
  • feelings of despair
  • fatigue and a feeling of heaviness
  • muddy thinking
  • difficulties thinking straight
  • changes to eating and sleeping patterns
  • less of an interest in hobbies and your social life
  • feeling misunderstood and alone
  • ongoing colds and flu.

The difference between mild and severe depression

Unlike severe depression, you are unlikely to have suicidal, destructive thoughts with walking depression. You will also not experience catatonia, where you are so tired and numb you feel you can't move your body. And you won't withdraw totally from the world, cutting yourself off from friends and family.

How mild depression can affect your life

It could perhaps best be summed up as, "surviving, but never thriving".

So whereas with major depression you might cut off contact with friends, call in sick to work, and stop doing much of anything at all? With walking depression you still make it to work. You still manage to show up to enough social events people aren’t worried.

But on the other hand, it can mean that you:

  • stop setting and reaching goals
  • pull back from relationships and don’t seek new connections
  • aren’t performing well at work
  • are passive over active and sabotage things constantly
  • are more prone to fall prey to any bad habits (drinking too much, gambling)
  • are moody or irritable with those around you.

But does it really matter if I am still coping?

A few months of coping over thriving is not the end of the world. But when walking depression continues, it can start to change the course of our future. We miss out on job promotions, important connections, fall into debt, or develop health problems. And can't seem to care enough to take the actions we know would help.

So what am I supposed to do if this is me?

1. Make sure you are exercising.

A research overview of studies around the effects of exercise on depression concluded that despite a need for further, more thorough research, it does seem that exercise can help some people. One of the studies concluded it was as effective as therapy in some cases.

2. Consider journalling.

Journalling can be a safe space to get out your worries or challenge the negative thoughts in your mind. One study found expressive writing was commonly listed as a useful tool by survivors of childhood trauma, for example.

3. Seek support.

It can take a lot of courage to admit you aren’t doing well. But finding support doesn’t mean everyone around you must know. If you’d rather keep things to yourself at this time, you can book a private counsellor. All things you share with your therapist will be confidential, and unlike friends and family they are unbiased. They aren’t going to judge you, but simply support you.

What sorts of therapy work for mild depression?

All forms of talk therapy are designed to raise your self-esteem, feel better about life, and start moving towards the goals that matter to you.

But if you have never tried therapy, a good short-term starter therapy can be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It's recommended by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for treating mild depression.

Or try mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which integrates acceptance. One study found it helped stop recurring depression.

Time to seek support for walking depression? Use our easy booking tool to find a therapist you like at a price you can afford.

Need a Therapy Session ASAP?

Here's who's next available...

See other available therapists ›
Are you a therapist?
Apply to be on the platform  ›