We can all feel low from time to time but depression is when a person feels persistently sad for a long period (weeks or months). Mild depression may not interfere much with everyday life but can leave a person feeling like things take more effort and are less worthwhile than usual. At its worst, clinical depression can lead to a person having suicidal thoughts.
There is no one cause for depression. For example, it can be brought on by experiencing a traumatic event or illness or feelings of loneliness. Sometimes depression can be the result of a combination of factors – if a person has a family history of depression, low self-esteem, is drinking too much alcohol or using drugs these can all contribute to depression.
Women can be vulnerable to depression after giving birth – this is known as postnatal depression and is caused by physical and hormonal changes as well as the added responsibility of a new baby.
Some people will get depression during autumn and winter months – this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is caused by not getting enough daylight.
The symptoms of depression can be different for different people. Sometimes people do not realise they have depression because many of the symptoms are physical and not psychological.
Psychological symptoms include:
- feeling restless or agitated
- feeling hopeless or helpless
- crying frequently
- memory problems
- difficulty concentrating
- being preoccupied by negative thoughts
- feeling anxious or worried
- feeling numb or empty
- feeling guilty
- suicidal thoughts
Physical symptoms include:
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- feeling tired or lacking energy
- change in appetite or weight
- unexplained aches and pains
- loss of libido
- changes to menstrual cycle
- difficulty sleeping or unusual sleeping patterns
Social symptoms include:
- not doing well at work
- taking part in less social activities
- avoiding contact with family or friends
- neglecting interests or hobbies
- having difficulties with home or family life
Mild depression can sometimes improve on its own given time but there are some things that can help including taking more exercise and attending a self help group. Talking through your problems can be beneficial – try this with a friend, relative or a GP. Talking therapies such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can also be helpful in treating mild to moderate depression.
Moderate to severe depression can be treated with antidepressants and sometimes combination therapy (this is where the person takes a course of antidepressants and participates in a talking therapy). If the depression is particularly severe or persistent then the person may need more intensive support from a mental health team – this could involve an inpatient stay at hospital where specialist help can be provided by a mental health team made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, specialist nurses and occupational therapists.
Search for services for depression using our clinical service finder.
Read Nikki's story on living with depression.
Find out more about depression in this short film.