What is Depression?
It is common for everyone to feel low from time to time, however, Depression is more than feeling unhappy or upset for a few days. Depression is characterised by persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy, accompanied by an inability to carry out daily activities, for at least two weeks. This can often be accompanied by a tiredness/fatigue, changes in appetite and/or sleep, anxiety, poor concentration, indecisiveness, restlessness, feelings of worthlessness, guilt and/or hopelessness, and thinking about self-harm or suicide.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 264 million people of all ages, suffer with Depression worldwide. The NHS reports that Depression affects 1 in 10 people in their life time. However, the positive news is that, with the right treatment and support, most people with Depression can and will make a full recovery.
How do I know if I have Depression?
Depression presents itself differently in different people and there can be a wide variety of symptoms. An example of some can be seen in the box to the right.
The NHS also offer a Depression self-assessment which can be found here.
Depression can also cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, low sex drive and aches and pains in the body.
Common Symptoms of Depression
Low mood most of the day and nearly every day
Less interest or pleasure in activites you would normally enjoy
Significant weight loss or gain, changes in appetite
Sleeping a lot more or less than normal
Irritable and physically agitated
General fatigue most of the day
Feeling worthless or inappropriately guilty
Finding it hard to concentrate and make decisions
Recurrent thoughts of death / recurrent thoughts of suicide
What caused my Depression?
There is no one cause for Depression and it has many triggers. Life changing events, such as a death, money worries or even having a baby can bring on Depression. The onset of Depression often features loss, such as loss of health, a job or a close relationship. People with a family history of Depression have been found more likely to experience the illness themselves, however, this is not always the case.
Depression is difficult to battle on your own, as low mood is self-sustaining and you can find the things you used to do to boost your mood are no longer appealing and seem too much effort. These things have not changed, but your perspective has and this is what CBT aims to tackle by making you aware of the negative thought patterns occurring. CBT then slowly allows you to change these thought patterns at a pace that suits you, with support from a professional.
A number of potential triggers suggested are; Stressful events: people often take time to come to terms with stressful events, however, when these events occur the risk of becoming depressed is increased as people often isolate themselves and try and deal with problems on their own.
Personality: Personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being overly self-critical have been associated with Depression. This can be due to hereditary, early life experiences or both.
Family history: If a member of your immediate family has had Depression in the past, you are often more at risk of developing it yourself.
Giving birth: Many women can be more vulnerable to Depression after giving birth due to the hormonal, physical and lifestyle changes. This is known as Postnatal Depression.
Loneliness: Isolating yourself from support networks, such as friends and family, can increase risk of Depression.
Alcohol and drugs: When we feel down it is often in our culture to turn to alcohol or taking drugs, however, this can often result in Depression. Cannabis, although it may help you relax, has been found to increase the risk of Depression, especially in teenagers. Alcohol is categorised as a ‘strong depressant’ and makes symptoms of depression worse.
Illness: People who have a longstanding or chronic illness are more vulnerable to depression due to the side effects of their illness, such as extreme fatigue and loss of libido. Head injuries are often a cause of depression, as they can cause mood swings and emotional issues.
How is Depression treated?
Studies consistently find that Cognitive Therapy (CT) is as effective as antidepressant medication in the short term, and more effective than medication in the longterm when treating Depression. Medication may be necessary for severe depression in order to initially engage in therapy, but for mild-moderate cases of Depression, CBT is the first choice of treatment.
Treatment for Depression can include lifestyle changes, talking therapies and medication. Life style changes can be increasing exercise, healthy eating, improving routine, reducing alcohol intake and quitting smoking. Other things which have been suggested to help are reading self-help books and joining a support group as sharing with others can allow you to understand your Depression better and reduce the stigma around Depression, whilst providing another support network. This is often suggested for those who have mild Depression.
When Depression is mild and not improving, or moderate, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an example of a talking therapy which is used for treatment. CBT focuses on your patterns of thought and how these affect your behaviours and abilities to cope with emotional situations. CBT primarily focuses on the present and looks to see how we can cope better in the current life circumstances we face, but it may be useful at times to look into our past in order to understand our current patterns of thought and behaviour. CBT aims to help you look at your problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts and looks for practical ways to improve a persons mental health on a daily basis.
For moderate-severe Depression, talking therapies and antidepressants are often used for treatment. Individuals are often referred to a specialist mental health team for intensive talking treatments and medication.