“The most important message is to share any worries you have, and seek professional help if needed”

EVERYTONE feels down, fed-up, miserable or sad at times. These feelings don’t usually last longer than a few days or a week, and they don’t impact heavily on our lives. This is natural, and often a response to having a bad day or hearing sad news.

Equally, sometimes these feelings can just come out of the blue. We can often cope with this alone or with support from family or friends. You will often hear people say that they are ‘depressed’ when they feel like this, but this is not depression.

Depression is not just ‘having a bad day’. It is more persistent than what we experience normally. If you are feeling down, and it is interfering with your ability to get on with your life, it may be useful to seek help from a medical doctor, counsellor or a support organisation. You may have what is commonly known as ‘clinical depression’ if the low mood or symptoms of depression last for two weeks or more, and the symptoms are causing an inability to carry out daily activities.

‘Clinical depression’ can be a serious development in a person’s life, as it can impact on health, wellbeing, relationships and work. It is very important that it is correctly identified. This is because depression could also be part of a physical condition or a feature of another mental health problem. When correctly assessed it means that the right approaches to recovery or support can follow.

Common symptoms of depression include physical as well as mental changes, and some of the most common to watch out for include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, emptiness or pointlessness
  • Irritability, angry outbursts and negativity
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in daily activities and in the things you normally enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating - restlessness and agitation
  • Marked anxiety and indecisiveness
  • Lack of motivation, loss of confidence and avoiding responsibilities
  • Sleep disruption and insomnia or having restless sleep
  • Comfort eating or decrease in appetite; no enjoyment of food
  • Tiredness or fatigue with no physical cause
  • Loss of vitality or sex drive
  • Turning more to alcohol, cigarettes or other substances to cope
  • Thoughts of self-harm, wishing to be dead or thoughts of suicide.
  • Men and women often show depression in different ways, as do younger and older people. It can often be quite hard for the person to recognise it in themselves, and even family or close friends may not see it. Sometimes the person even feels they deserve to feel like that.

    It is important to know what to look for and be open minded so that depression is not missed. Overlooking the chance to get this right can cost you or your loved one a huge price in personal happiness and wellbeing, not to mention the huge impact on health, relationships and career.

    Types of depression

    Mild depression

    With mild depression, you might experience tiredness, early morning wakening, indecision, poor concentration and loss of confidence. You may not necessarily feel depressed and may be generally coping well in your day-to-day life.

    Moderate depression

    Most of the symptoms listed above may be present in this case, but you may also feel extremely fatigued, have significant sleep disturbance and appear to others to be depressed.

    Severe depression

    In addition to the symptoms of moderate depression, your judgement may be more impaired in this case. You could have an extremely negative and pessimistic view of your own self-worth and future prospects. Suicidal thoughts may also be present.

    Bipolar disorder

    Depression can occur on its own or as part of a related condition known as bipolar disorder. Here depression symptoms are usually more severe and persistent. As well as depressive symptoms, you may have periods of over-activity and marked sleeplessness, overconfidence and even dangerous impulsivity or misjudgement. This can be quite harmful and often leads to quite damaging personal consequences. It warrants special consideration as to how the depression should be treated.

    Support for depression

    Depression can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or social status. It is not a sign of weakness and anyone can experience low mood/depression at any stage in our lives. More importantly, depression can be effectively prevented and treated. Getting help for significant low mood or depression can make a difference. There are lots of different things that can help, some that you can do yourself and some that involve getting support. By doing the right things for yourself, you can get well.

    When thinking about support, it is important to recognise that everyone experiences mental health problems in a unique way and therefore help, treatment and support varies from person to person. What works for one person may not for another. It is useful to think about what you feel will help you, and not to feel you are beyond help if a certain type of treatment doesn’t work out.

  • Little things can make a big difference. There are lots of things you can do to help mind your mental health, such as eating well, exercising, sleeping and spending time with friends.
  • Drink less. Remember that alcohol can act as a long-term depressant; so avoid or reduce your alcohol intake when you are feeling low. Misuse of other drugs can also have a serious impact on your mood and mental health.
  • Talking about how you feel to someone you trust and who is supportive can be a great help. Most people begin to feel better after talking with someone who cares for them.
  • Medical help. Talking with a medical doctor is important; many of the symptoms associated with depression could be caused by something else. A correct diagnosis from a medical professional is most useful, especially early on. A doctor can give you information about other people, supports or services that can be of help. A doctor can also offer you medication if necessary.
  • You can access a wide range of supports and services from community and non-statutory organisations. Many of these services are low-cost or free. A doctor might also recommend counselling services in your area. These might include free, low cost or private options.