As part of our Wellness Wednesdays campaign, we share a blog every Wednesday from Healthily – our preferred health partner – to give you tips, advice and guidance on a wide variety of health conditions. This blog gives you an overview of depression – what it is, why we need to take low feelings seriously, and the avenues for seeking help.
What is depression?
Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days.
Most people go through periods of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
Some people think depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong – it’s a real illness with real symptoms. It isn’t a sign of weakness or something you can ‘snap out of’ by ‘pulling yourself together’.
The good news is that with the right treatment and support, most people with depression can make a full recovery.
How to tell if you have depression
Depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms.
They range from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful, many people also experience symptoms of anxiety.
There can be physical symptoms too, such as feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and various aches and pains. The symptoms range from mild to severe; at its mildest, you may simply feel persistently low in spirit, while severe depression can make you feel suicidal, that life is no longer worth living.
Most people experience feelings of stress, unhappiness or anxiety during difficult times. A low mood may improve after a short period of time, rather than being a sign of clinical depression. Read more about low mood and depression.
The psychological symptoms include:
- continuous low mood or sadness
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling tearful
- feeling guilt-ridden
- feeling irritable and intolerant of others
- having no motivation or interest in things
- finding it difficult to make decisions
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- feeling anxious or worried
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.
The physical symptoms include:
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- changes in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of energy
- low sex drive (loss of libido)
- changes to your menstrual cycle
- disturbed sleep – for example, finding it difficult to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning.
The social symptoms include:
- not doing well at work
- avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
- neglecting your hobbies and interests
- having difficulties in your home and family life.
When to see a doctor
It’s important to seek help from your doctor if you think you may be depressed. Many people wait a long time before seeking help for depression, but it’s best not to delay. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can be on the way to recovery.
What causes depression?
Sometimes there’s a trigger for depression. Life-changing events, such as bereavement, losing your job or even having a baby, can bring it on.
People with a family history of this mental health diagnosis are more likely to experience it themselves. But you can also become depressed for no obvious reason. Read more about the causes here.
Depression is fairly common, affecting about 1 in 10 people at some point during their life. It affects men and women, young and old. Studies have shown that about 4% of children aged 4 to 16 in the UK are anxious or depressed.
Treatment for depression can involve a combination of lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medication and your recommended treatment will be based on whether you have mild, moderate or severe symptoms.
If you have mild depression, your doctor may suggest waiting to see whether it improves on its own, while monitoring your progress. This is known as “watchful waiting”. They may also suggest lifestyle measures such as exercise and self-help groups.
For moderate to severe depression, a combination of talking therapy and antidepressants is often recommended. If you have severe symptoms, you may be referred to a specialist mental health team for intensive specialist talking treatments and prescribed medication.
Grief and depression
It can be difficult to distinguish between grief and depression. They share many of the same characteristics, but there are important differences between them. Grief is an entirely natural response to a loss, while depression is an illness.
People who are grieving find their feelings of sadness and loss come and go, but they’re still able to enjoy things and look forward to the future. In contrast, people who are depressed constantly feel sad. They don’t enjoy anything and find it difficult to be positive about the future. Read more about coping with bereavement here.
You can read the full article in the Healthily Health Library where it was originally published.
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