Depression is one of the most common mental health problems, but it can be treated successfully and people with depression can resume a happy and fulfilling life, with the right help. It affects one in six people in the UK at some point, and one in twenty will experience major (or clinical) depression.
In Northern Ireland, this figure could be even higher. In a 2001 survey, people who said they had been affected by the troubles were twice as likely to show signs of possible mental health problems as those who had not been badly affected.
So what is depression? It can be different for everyone who experiences it. Depression is an illness that makes people feel unhappy over a continued period of time. It can make everyday activities feel harder to do, or feel less worthwhile.
Depression isn’t just about feeling sad and upset. If you’re depressed, you can feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with life’s demands, or hopeless about the future.
It’s important to remember, too, that it’s normal to feel sad, irritable and anxious sometimes. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are depressed – it could simply be a natural reaction to difficult times. When you feel so bad that you can’t enjoy life, however, or your low mood lasts for more than a few weeks, then you may want to seek some help.
Signs of depression
Everyone has a different experience of what depression means to them. Signs of depression can vary widely from person to person. However, professionals look for the following key signs to decide whether someone is depressed:
- feeling low, sad or miserable for at least two weeks
- crying a lot
- losing your appetite, or increased appetite at times
- feeling tired or waking up early
- having disturbed sleep, or difficulty in getting over to sleep
- not wanting to sleep
- feeling irritable with yourself or other people
- finding it hard to concentrate or remember things
- losing interest in things you used to enjoy
- feeling guilty or worthless
- having thoughts of self-harm, or even suicide
It is difficult to pinpoint a single cause for depression. For some people, it comes out of the blue, while for others it is triggered by difficult times in their life or past – like physical illness, family problems or unemployment.
If you think you may be depressed, it’s important to get the right support for you. Most people go to see their GP first of all for advice and help. However, others might contact counselors or their church group for support and guidance.
If your depression is mild, it might be treated by advice and support on coping with problems and improving sleep, for example. Many people find that regular exercise over a period of time can help improve their mood and energy levels.
A GP might also refer someone for psychological treatments, such as CBT (cognitive-behavioural therapy), problem-solving therapy or guided self-help sessions with a therapist, if they think it would be useful.
The GP may also advise taking antidepressants for a while. If so, they will provide information on using antidepressants and their possible side effects. Another option is referral to a specialist – such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health nurse, psychiatric nurse or to a counselor. Your GP will be able to advise you of the best course of treatment for you.
If someone is very depressed or at risk of self-harm, they may be admitted to hospital for further treatment. In these circumstances, a psychiatric care team can monitor the person’s care and treatment very closely and work out a care plan best suited to them and their needs.