Depression is very common – one in five people become depressed at some point in their lives. Anyone can get low at times, but someone is said to be suffering from depression when these feelings don’t go away quickly or become so bad they interfere with their everyday life.

Why do people get depressed?

Sometimes there may be an obvious reason for becoming depressed, sometimes not. There is usually more than one reason and reasons are different for different people. The reason may seem obvious – a relationship breakdown or a bereavement or even the birth of a child – sometimes it is not clear. Either way, these feelings can become so bad that you need help.

What does it feel like to be depressed?

The feeling of depression is deeper, longer and more unpleasant than the short episodes of unhappiness that everyone experiences occasionally.
Symptoms include:

  • losing interest in life;
  • finding it harder to make decisions;
  • not coping with things that used to be manageable;
  • feeling exhausted;
  • feeling restless and agitated;
  • loss of appetite and weight
  • difficulties getting to sleep

How do I know if I am depressed?

Often people don’t realise how depressed they are, because it has come on so gradually. They may try to struggle on and cope with feelings of depression by being very busy. This can make them even more stressed and exhausted. Physical pains such as constant headaches or sleeplessness then start. Sometimes these physical symptoms can be the first sign of a depression.

What are the symptoms?

There are a number of symptoms of depression and it’s very rare for all of them to occur in one person. They include feeling generally miserable, as well as:

Variation of mood during the day. It’s often worse in the morning, improving as the day goes on – but the pattern can be the other way around.

  • Disturbed sleep, usually waking early and being unable to get back to sleep
  • A general slowing down of thought, speech and movement
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Tearfulness for no reason
  • Short temper
  • Lack of energy and constant exhaustion
  • Inability to enjoy things
  • Lack of concentration
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling that you’re forgetful
  • Negative thoughts about the future
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Loss of identity
  • Blaming self and low self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness and despair
  • Unrealistic sense of failure
  • Loneliness, even when around others
  • Becoming preoccupied with illness
  • Loss of appetite and resulting loss of weight
  • Reduced desire for sex

It’s important to remember that depression isn’t an absolute – it’s not simply a case of either you’re depressed or you’re not. There’s a progression from feeling blue to the full clinical illness described above. Even then, you won’t suffer from every symptom.

How common is it?

Seven to 12 per cent of men suffer from diagnosable depression, and 20 to 25 per cent of women. There are many theories as to why the figure is higher for women. The incidence of postnatal depression certainly contributes to the higher figure.

Monitoring your mood

This is the starting point for managing depression. It will help you learn to spot an episode of depression before it’s too late. Using the thought-monitoring you can decide which thoughts represent an accurate picture of what’s going on around you and which are unrealistic and created by your mood beginning to fall.

Ask someone you trust to monitor your mood

Those closest to you will often be able to recognise the early signs of depression. An agreement with a family member or friend as to how and when they could point out the problem, and what the two of you do to address it, is invaluable.

The kind of tasks you could do with your relative or friend include: stress auditing, thought and mood inventories, and talking about any incident that’s given the family member or friend cause for concern.

What support is available?

There’s nothing like speaking to someone who’s been through the experience and come out the other side. Samaritans are available to listen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can also be useful to attend support groups. The national mental health charity Mind runs several.
Depression Alliance offers information and support to people affected by depression, including a network of self-help groups.

What professional help is available?

The first person to talk to about this is your GP, who may have a practice counsellor who you could talk to. Alternatively, you may be referred to the local community mental health team to see a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) or a clinical psychologist.

Other ways to help yourself

It’s not unusual to experience some of the signs of depression from time to time. But if the feelings are very strong all the time, there are things you can do to help yourself.

  • Notice ‘thinking errors’ – are you over generalising. For example, do you imagine every pain is a deadly disease? Do you tell yourself everything is going wrong when only one thing has gone wrong?
  • Balance frightening thoughts with reassuring statements.
  • Occupy your mind. Concentrating on something can lift your mood.
  • Exercise. Physical activity relaxes you and makes you feel good.
  • Pay attention to the way you look.
  • Eat a regular diet of wholefoods.
  • Avoid alcohol. It’s a depressant, even if it makes you feel temporarily better.
  • Investigate alternative and complementary therapies.

This too shall pass!

Try to keep hopeful. Like every other crisis or difficulty in our lives depression can have within it the seed of opportunity. Remember this is a very common experience and you will come through it, probably stronger and more able to cope than before.