What is depression?

We can all feel down, fed up, frustrated, sad and unhappy at times. These feelings can all be normal responses to difficult and demanding experiences in our lives. However, someone can be said to be suffering from depression when these feelings become intense or overwhelming, last longer than a couple of weeks, or become so bad that they begin to interfere with everyday life.

Who does depression affect?

Depression can affect anyone at any time in their life. Around one in five people in the UK will experience depression at some point in their lives.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Depression not only affects your mood and your thoughts but you may also experience physical symptoms. The most common symptoms of depression are listed here. If you experience four or more of these symptoms daily, for more than two weeks, you should seek help.

  • Feeling unhappy and low most of the time – can be worse in the mornings
  • Loss of interest in social life
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeping problems – difficulty getting to sleep and waking up earlier than usual
  • Loss of libido
  • Loss of self confidence
  • Feeling worthless and hopeless
  • Poor memory or concentration
  • Difficulty coping and making decisions

What causes depression?

There is no single cause of depression. It can be triggered by life events such as bereavement, illness, a relationship breakdown, financial worries or redundancy. Sometimes, the cause may seem to be obvious but sometimes it may not be clear, or there may be more than one reason.

Certain factors can make some people more susceptible to depression. Early life experiences and issues from childhood, such as parental divorce, can also have a profound effect on how you feel about yourself and cope with events in the here and now. Other factors that can make someone more vulnerable to depression include a family history of depression.

What treatment is available?

For many people a combination of talking treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and medication is the most effective way of treating depression. Whether you are treated with one or both will be dependent on your individual circumstances and the severity of your depression.

CBT is an evidence based therapy which aims to help you identify negative thoughts and feelings affecting your behaviour so that you can learn to change them. By focusing on difficulties you are facing now, rather than issues from the past, CBT helps you take a practical approach to find ways to improve your state of mind.

Antidepressants can help you to feel less anxious and more able to cope so that you can start to enjoy life again and deal with your problems. It can take a few weeks before your medicine starts to work so you do need to allow enough time to see if it is going to be effective.

What can I do to help myself?

  • Talk to someone close to you. Sharing your concerns can bring a sense of relief and is often helpful in itself.
  • Taking regular exercise can be beneficial for people with mild to moderate depression so joining a gym or going for daily walks could be helpful.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate may seem to help you feel better in the short term – but this effect will not last. Alcohol is a depressant and could make you more likely to become depressed or make an existing depression worse.

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