Black dog, the blues, down in the dumps, the vapours – whatever you call it, it’s a rare human who doesn’t feel low from time to time. But occasional sad days are a million miles from true depression.
Though many casually use the term “depressed” to describe their glum moments, the condition is much more than simply feeling melancholy.
The fact is that depression is an illness, where sadness is persistent and intense and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are accompanied by debilitating physical effects.
As Depression Alliance notes, these include disturbed sleep, loss of energy and even physical aches and pains.
Contrary to what some may believe, “snapping out” of a true depression is impossible: the only way to escape its clutches is to seek proper medical advice.
UK health charities are keen to share the warning signs of this devastating illness, which affects one in four women and one in 10 men at some point in their lives.
“Sometimes people may not realise how depressed they are, especially if they have been feeling the same for a long time, if they have been trying to cope with their depression by keeping themselves busy, or if their depressive symptoms are more physical than emotional,” explains Depression Alliance.
“As a general rule, if you have experienced four or more of these symptoms, for most of the day nearly every day, for over two weeks, then you should seek help.”
*Tiredness and loss of energy
*Persistent low mood or sadness
*Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
*Feeling hopeless and helpless
*Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable
*Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting to sleep or waking much earlier than usual
*Avoiding other people
*Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
*Loss of appetite
*Loss of sex drive
*Physical aches and pains
*Thinking about suicide and death
The symptoms of depression can have a knock-on effect on daily life, with work suffering, social contact falling away and increased difficulties in home and family life.
As the NHS Livewell site notes: “Depression can come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong.”
Often it takes a friend or family member to suggest there may be a problem. And while there is no single cause, it can be triggered by a host of different factors – from bereavement to divorce, illness, job worries, money issues or a combination of things that lead to a “downward spiral”.
There are some genetic factors, too, and hormonal changes, such as giving birth, can lead to increased instances of depression.
But what can you do if it is blighting your life? The key thing is to see a GP: while there may seem no way out of the mire, the fact is that the sooner you seek help the sooner the depression will lift.
Treatments vary from simple exercise and talking therapies for milder depression, to antidepressants or a combination of the above if symptoms are more severe.
As Patient UK points out: “Treatment takes time to work but has a good chance of success.”
There are also some simple self-help tips to follow that can stop depression from getting worse. They include:
*Don’t bottle things up – tell people close to you how you feel
*Don’t despair – most people with depression recover
*Try to distract yourself with simple things such as watching TV or listening to the radio – especially if sleeping is a problem
*Eat regularly and healthily even if your appetite is lacking
*Try to take regular exercise in the open air, even if just a brisk walk
*Don’t drink too much alcohol, which can make problems worse
*Avoid making major decisions while depressed – for example quitting a job, moving house or finishing a relationship. Seek treatment first
*Tell your doctor if you feel you are getting worse, and particularly if suicidal thoughts are troubling you