Depression what is it

What is depression, the key facts
(Taken from royal college of psychiatrists website, www.rcpsych.ac.uk)

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.

Depression is an illness that is often experienced as episodes. People usually recover from depression, but is also possible for depression to come back again. Episodes can last several months (or even longer in some instances).

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:

¦persistent sadness or low mood
¦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
¦loss of sex drive
¦thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Depression is graded by mental health professionals according to its severity into mild, moderate and severe episodes. This grading is determined by the number of symptoms you may have rather than the length of the episode.

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 help is available?
There are two types of treatment available: talking treatments and medication. Both can be accessed through your doctor.

What are talking treatments?
There are several different types of talking treatments. Counselling enables you to talk about your feelings to an objective, professional person. Your GP may have a counsellor at the surgery who you can talk to.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps people overcome the negative thoughts that can sometimes be the cause of depression.

If you have become depressed while suffering from a disability or caring for a relative, then a self-help group may give you the support you need.

What sorts of medication might work?
Antidepressants can be effective if your depression is severe or goes on for a long time. They may help you to feel less anxious and cope better so that you can start to enjoy life and deal with problems effectively again. It is important to remember that you won’t feel the effect of antidepressants straight away. People often don’t notice any improvement in their mood for 2 or 3 weeks.

As well as tablets, there is an alternative remedy called St John’s Wort available from chemists. There is evidence that it is effective in mild to moderate depression. It seems to work in much the same way as some antidepressants, but some people find that it has fewer side-effects. If you are taking other medication, you should tell your doctor before taking St John’s Wort.

Which is right for me – talking treatments or tablets?
It depends on how your depression has developed and how severe it is. On the whole, talking treatments have been found to be effective in mild and moderate depression. Medication is not thought to be helpful in mild depression. If your depression is severe, you are more likely to need antidepressants, usually for a period of 7-9 months.

What will happen if I don’t get treatment?
Four out of five people with depression will get better without help, but this can take 4-6 months or longer. It still leaves 1 in 5 people still depressed two years later. A small number of people with severe depression will eventually commit suicide.

What can I do to help myself?
Talking to someone close to you about how you feel can help. Going over a painful experience several times and crying it out can allow the mind to heal.

Another strategy is to do something – go outside for a walk or some other form of exercise. This will help you to keep fit and hopefully, sleep better. You can also do jobs around the house to try and take your mind off thoughts that make you depressed.

Make sure you eat well even though you may not feel like it and don’t drink alcohol as this makes depression worse, although it might not seem to at first.

Try not to get worried if you can’t sleep but do something relaxing in bed such as reading, watching TV or listening to the radio.

If you think you know what is causing your depression, it can help to write down the problem and then think of the things you could do to tackle it. Pick the best actions and see if they work.

Also try to keep hopeful. Remember this is a very common experience and you will come through it, probably stronger and more able to cope than before.

How can I help someone who is depressed?
Listen to them but try not to judge them. Don’t offer advice unless they ask for it but if you can see the problem that is behind the depression, you could work with the person to find a solution.
Spending time with them, listening over and over to their problems and encouraging them to keep going with activities in their routine is all helpful.
If they are getting worse, encourage them to visit their doctor and to accept and follow their treatment.