What is depression?The term ‘depression’ is often used to describe a temporary low mood, or the feelings one associates with a particular situation in life. In most cases, these low spirits lift of their own accord after a short period of time. However, if these feelings of unhappiness worsen and begin to interfere with everyday life, you could be suffering from major or clinical depression. The word “clinical” simply means that the condition is severe enough to need some form of treatment.
What are the symptoms?There's no blood test or physical investigation that can tell whether or not you have depression. It's diagnosed according to the presence (or absence) of characteristic symptoms. Depression affects everyone in different ways: symptoms are varied and can manifest physically and socially as well as psychologically. However, examples of commonly experienced symptoms are as follows:
Feeling low in mood for long periods of time; tearfulness; anxiety; lack of concentration; irritability; failing to derive pleasure from usually enjoyable activities; tiredness and lack of energy; losing self-confidence and self-esteem; feeling numb and empty; feeling hopeless and helpless; feeling pessimistic about the future; insomnia; early morning wakefulness; lack of libido; unexplained guilt; restlessness and agitation; being preoccupied by negative thoughts; suicidal thoughts; self-harm; experiencing physical aches and pains; weight loss or gain; constipation.
What causes it?There is no one cause of depression: it varies from person to person. Broadly speaking there are three main triggers. Social factors (e.g. loosing a job, divorce or bereavement); psychological factors (e.g. chronic anxiety or childhood rejection) and physical factors (e.g. infectious diseases or long-term physical health problems) can all contribute. It is also thought that some people may have a genetic predisposition towards depression.
How common is it?Depression can affect anyone at any time. Current research suggests that one person in six will become depressed at some point in their lives, and, at any one time, one in twenty adults will be experiencing depression. It is important to remember that depression is very common and is the third most common reason for seeing a GP. It's a serious illness and not a sign of weakness or laziness.
What treatments are available?If you think you, or someone you care for, may be depressed, it’s important to seek advice. There are other mental health problems with depressive symptoms, and there are different kinds of depression, so it's important to see a doctor who can identify what's causing your symptoms and help you get the right treatment.
Antidepressant drugs (which affect the chemicals in the brain that lift your mood) are the most commonly prescribed treatment for depression. They can be effective in treating the symptoms of depression, but are not in themselves a cure. This is why talking treatments are often prescribed in conjunction with antidepressants, so that people can be helped to address the reasons why they became depressed in the first place. Talking treatments aim to help people recognise triggering factors in their lives and work out coping strategies in order to be able to deal with these. A wide variety of talking treatments are available, ranging from counseling and psychotherapy to cognitive behavioral therapy. A referral for talking treatments can be arranged by your doctor. For extreme cases of depression, inpatient hospital treatment or Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) may be recommended.
How can I help myself?Exercise: research shows that this can be as effective as antidepressants at reducing depressive symptoms.
Eat well: maintaining a balanced diet is important for you mental health.
Talk about it: sharing your problems with a friend or support group can help you feel less alone and give you insight into your condition.
Express yourself: many people expressing their emotions through art or poetry extremely helpful.
Avoid drugs and excessive alcohol: these may seem to help at first, but will make things worse in the long term.