Understanding depression

At any one time about 10% of the UK population will be suffering with depression. As many as one person in six will be diagnosed with depression at some stage of their life (source: http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/anxietystats.html).

Depression is a complex condition with many causes. It can range from a mild sense of feeling “low” to a serious mental illness needing hospital care. It may even threaten life by causing someone to feel suicidal. There are several kinds of depression, for example:

  • Reactive depression. This is a response to life changes such as bereavement or redundancy. People sometimes call this “exogenous” depression.
  • Clinical depression. This has a medical cause; sometimes it is called “endogenous” depression.
  • Post natal depression. This is brought on by childbirth but sometimes persists for a long time afterwards.
  • Bipolar disorder. This is a condition where over a period of time someone swings back and forth between a depressed mood and heightened excitement (mania).
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder. This has depression-like symptoms and is triggered by lack of sunlight in winter.

Am I depressed?

A doctor will diagnose you as depressed if you have had a range of several symptoms like those in the list below to at least a moderate degree for a period of two weeks or more.

Symptoms of depression

  • Depression will show itself in a number of ways. These may include:
  • feeling sad or in despair;
  • feeling restless, agitated or anxious;
  • changes in sleeping pattern, for example can’t get to sleep or waking too early;
  • feeling extremely tired;
  • not enjoying things you usually enjoy;
  • blaming yourself and feeling guilty or inferior;
  • getting angry and flying off the handle;
  • being very tearful;
  • being full of negative thoughts.
  • not liking to be around other people;
  • eeling numb, empty or flat;
  • feeling you have no hope;
  • thoughts of self harm or suicide;
  • unexplained aches or pains;
  • loss of interest in sex
  • finding it hard to make decisions and take action
  • feeling anxious and unable to relax.

As a general rule, women are more likely to become tearful when they are depressed. Men are more likely to become irritable and aggressive.

Why am I depressed?
There is usually more than one cause of depression. Often there is a genetic disposition. Stressful life changes can play a part, as can poor diet, lack of exercise and sleep deprivation. Some viral infections (such as flu) can cause depression. With some people the internal chemistry of the brain is a factor. The body fails to manufacture the chemicals that make us feel happy and positive.

Can depression be cured?
Many people have an episode of depression and then recover completely. For some people depression will keep reoccurring throughout their life and may need to be controlled by medication.

What help is there for depression?
Your GP may be able to help and you could contact a counsellor. The main treatments for depression are:

Medication won’t cure depression but can help to relieve the symptoms. A doctor may prescribe antidepressants which work on the chemical messages that pass between brain cells to make you feel more positive. He or she may also prescribe medication to help control disturbed sleep patterns.

This is the opportunity to talk through your feelings and problems with a trained person who will listen and help you to understand what is going on in your life and to find your own solutions.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
This is a particular form of counselling where the counsellor helps you to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviours that may be influencing the way you feel.

You may have to pay for private counselling. A certain amount of counselling, (especially CBT) may be available on the NHS.

How can I help myself?
Start by making sure you get plenty of exercise and a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. If sleep is a problem, try to get into a regular routine and get some early nights or some lie ins to catch up. Try not to isolate yourself from other people. If you feel tearful, let yourself cry – this is part of the body’s healing process. There is some truth in the saying that “laughter is the best medicine”, too. If you feel suicidal, tell someone and try to find friends that are willing for you to phone them to talk when you are feeling that way.

How can I help someone else with depression?
Someone who is depressed will be thinking and reacting more slowly, so slow down to their pace and take time to listen to them. Don’t try to jolly them out of their low mood or tell them to pull themselves together. Do try to help them see that their negative thoughts may not be true. Try to relieve them of any practical burdens and give them the opportunity to rest. Making decisions is really hard when you are depressed, so encourage them where possible to put off major decisions until they feel better. If someone makes hints about suicide always take it seriously as even a “cry for help” can go wrong. Encourage them to ring you or someone else they can trust whenever they feel that way.

Things avoid when you are depressed:
Avoid the kind of behaviours that are likely to add to your stress or make things worse, for example:

  • abusing alcohol or drugs
  • smoking more
  • starting an affair
  • resigning from your job.

Important: Never stop your medication without medical supevision.

Useful contacts (in the United Kingdom)

Help if you are feeling suicidal
(note, this information only applies to the United Kingdom)
•    ·  Call the Samaritans support service on 08457 90 90 90.
•    ·  Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department and tell the staff how you are feeling.
•    ·  Contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

Sad lego figure image © copyright Kristina Alexanderson, accessed from flickr.com under a creative commons license.