It’s normal to feel down and a bit unhappy sometimes. Depression, however, is more than this. There is a range of symptoms that indicate depression. These include continuous low mood or feelings of sadness, lack of energy, lack of motivation, low sense of self-worth, feeling guilty and tearful, no longer getting enjoyment from life, feeling anxious or worried and feeling that life is no longer worth living or having thoughts of ending your life.
People with depression might also start to isolate themselves, have difficulties at work and with relationships and stop getting involved in their usual activities. In addition to these psychological symptoms, depression can also have physical symptoms. These include changes to appetite, lack of energy, low sex drive, disturbed sleep, unexplained aches and pains.
Depression is broken down into mild (has some impact on a person’s life), moderate (has a significant impact on their daily life) and severe (they are no longer able to function). People with very severe depression may even become psychotic (a condition known as psychotic depression) whereby they experience hallucination or delusions.
What causes depression?
Depression is complex: there is no one cause of it. It can be triggered by an upsetting or distressing life experience, such as bereavement or divorce, illness or losing a job. It’s more common in people who have social or economic problems, but anyone can get it. Certain personality traits, such as low self esteem have been shown to increase the risk.
A family history of depression also increases the risk of developing it yourself. There’s likely to be a genetic component, meaning that some people are more susceptible to it than others. Alcohol and certain drugs can also trigger depression or make it worse. Depression can also be triggered by hormonal changes after giving birth – a condition known as postnatal depression.
How is depression treated?
Treatment depends on severity. In mild cases, support and self-care with lifestyle changes such as exercise can help. If you have mild to moderate depression that isn’t improving, then a GP will often recommend a type of talking therapy (also called ‘psychotherapy’) called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This has been shown to be very effective in treating depression.
In moderate to severe depression, your doctor might also consider prescribing an antidepressant. There are lots of different types of antidepressant, but the most commonly prescribed is a group called the SSRIs. This includes medication such as citalopram, sertraline and fluoxetine. If your symptoms are severe then the GP may refer you to the local mental health team to see a psychiatrist. This is a medical doctor who specialises in mental health problems.
How to get help
The most important thing to do is talk to someone if you think you are becoming depressed. It’s very difficult to deal with depression on your own – part of getting better is acknowledging that there’s a problem and that you need help.
If you’ve been prescribed medication then it’s important to take this regularly. You shouldn’t just stop taking the antidepressants. If you experience side effects, then talk to your doctor as the medication can be changed to one that is better tolerated.
Mindfulness can also help and you can do this alongside psychotherapy or taking medication. There are lots of mindfulness tools on line or local classes. Avoid self-medicating with substances like alcohol – in the long run, these only make depression worse. If you are feeling desperate or alone, then remember that the Samaritans are there 24 hours a day. You can call them on 116 123