Michelle Obama says she has ‘low-grade depression;’ can you relate?

By Regence
August 06, 2020
Michelle Obama low grade depression_source Vincent Thian Associated Press via NPR

Regence has a variety of resources and tools to support members’ health and well-being

Main Photo: Michelle Obama via NPR, source: Vincent Thian/Associated Press

A global pandemic. Civic unrest. National division ahead of fall’s elections.

It’s no wonder Michelle Obama says she has experienced “low-grade” depression.

Many of us are months in to working from home, maintaining physical distance to keep ourselves safe and facing difficult decisions about school and other future activities. Not to mention ongoing economic uncertainty, pay cuts and job losses. It can be wearing, even for the former first lady, who discussed how she’s coping on a recent episode of her new podcast.

“There have been periods throughout this quarantine where I just have felt too low,” she said. “You know, I’ve gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels, where you just don’t feel yourself.”

She noted that she was having trouble sleeping and was trying to do what experts suggest by keeping a routine, exercising and eating right.

Low-grade depression is not a clinical term or descriptive from a classification perspective, said Dr. Jim Polo, a psychiatrist and Executive Medical Director at Regence. “Nonetheless, Michelle Obama is spot on,” he said. “She is referring to those times when one might be experiencing a few mild symptoms of depression, which include low mood, disappointment, lack of motivation, low anxiety, slight irritability, slight social withdrawal, wistfulness and so forth.”

Within this context, people will not be dysfunctional either socially or occupationally, but day-to-day activities will take more effort, he said. Generally, people will be able to identify the source of their ‘low-grade depression’ and cope with it. Their symptoms are a normal reaction to the circumstances that they are dealing with.

“All of us can experience mild symptoms of depression when we are disappointed or unhappy about a situation. It’s important to recognize that this is a normal reaction to the stress of uncertainty,” Polo said. “Connecting with others, especially family and friends, can provide the needed support that helps us cope better. When symptoms persist or worsen such that daily activities become a struggle, it’s best to seek professional help.”

It’s unclear what the long-term effects COVID-19 will be on people’s mental health, but the World Health Organization predicts a looming crisis. The number of people treated for mental health issues has increased since the pandemic began given isolation, worry and economic stress.

It’s important to note, too, that social or physical distancing is not synonymous with social isolation, so it’s important to enhance resilience during these challenging times by strengthening our existing social networks and relationships.

Regence has created a self-care resource page to provide our members with helpful information , including mental health and well-being tips from medical and behavioral health experts, as well as go-to resources for immediate support.

Through our wellness platform, Regence Empower, members can also access self-guided programs on managing stress, building resilience and boosting nutrition, among other topics. Many members have complementary access to myStrength, a behavioral health app that offers COVID-19 and mental wellness resources, including tips for parenting during challenging times, ideas to manage feelings of social isolation.

Given ongoing physical distancing to help combat the spread of COVID-19, health care providers are offering additional virtual and telehealth care options, including Doctor on Demand. Members can learn more by signing in to their regence.com account or by calling Customer Service at the number on the back of their member ID card.