What is depression?
The symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between people. But as a general rule, if you are depressed you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy. All of us have periods in our life when we may feel this way. However, symptoms of depression persist for weeks or months and are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family and friendships.
There are many other symptoms of depression and you’re unlikely to have every one listed.
If you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.
Psychological symptoms include:
- continuous low mood or sadness
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling tearful
- feeling guilt-ridden
- feeling irritable and intolerant of others
- having no motivation or interest in things
- finding it difficult to make decisions
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- feeling anxious or worried
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
Physical symptoms include:
- moving or speaking more slowly than usual
- change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of energy or lack of interest in sex (loss of libido)
- changes to your menstrual cycle
- disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)
Social symptoms include:
- not doing well at work
- taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends
- neglecting your hobbies and interests
- having difficulties in your home and family life
Depression can come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people continue to try to cope with their symptoms without realising they are becoming unwell. It can take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong.
Doctors define depression in the following ways:
- mild depression has some impact on your daily life
- moderate depression has a significant impact on your daily life
- severe depression makes it almost impossible to get through daily life – a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms
Other types of depression
There are different types of depression, and some conditions where depression may be one of the symptoms. These include:
- Postnatal depression. Some women develop depression after having a baby. Postnatal depression is treated in similar ways to other forms of depression, with talking therapies and antidepressant medicines.
- Bipolar disorder is also known as “manic depression”. It’s where there are spells of depression and excessively high mood (mania). The depression symptoms are similar to clinical depression, but the bouts of mania can include harmful behaviour such as gambling, going on spending sprees and having unsafe sex.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Also known as “winter depression”, SAD is a type of depression that has a seasonal pattern usually related to winter.
If you feel that you experience any of the above symptoms, it is important to first seek help from your GP prior to embarking upon finding a counsellor or therapist.
Help for Depression
What you can do to help yourself if you suspect that you have depression
Remember that depression can happen to anyone, and does affect one in four people. Often when we are feeling depressed we can feel hopeless, and begin to have negative thoughts about our self, the world and the future. This in turn makes us feel more blue, and our behaviour changes in that we withdraw from the things we would normally do, such as going out, seeing friends, going to the gym, going to work, etc. Unfortunately this creates a vicious circle as not doing the things we normally enjoy only makes us feel more depressed and confirms the negative beliefs about ourselves, and the future being hopeless! It can be helpful to separate out our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and try to tackle them individually. It can be more difficult to challenge negative thoughts about ourselves, usually it can be easier to try to change our behaviour.
Try one thing to break this vicious circle: it could simply be making the effort to phone a friend, going for a walk, or writing down and trying to challenge the negative thoughts you are having about yourself.
Exercise has shown to be helpful in breaking the cycle of depression. Often when feeling depressed the thought of getting out of bed, or leaving the house can be too much. Exercise can be something as simple as walking to the shop, or doing some yoga, pilates or aerobics exercise in your front room! If you start by doing one thing differently, you can then begin to challenge yourself to take the next step, which may involve leaving the house. This can bring a sense of achievement, which continues to chip away at depressive thinking.
Speak to your GP if you are concerned that you have depression. Often, you can be referred for counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to help you with the symptoms you are experiencing.
Often your GP can refer you for a brief course of counselling or cognitive behaviour therapy, which can be extremely helpful to you in managing your immediate symptoms. However, sometimes depression can arise from deeper seated issues that are usually associated with loss. Loss does not necessarily mean bereavement; you may be experiencing feelings of emptiness or low self worth, possibly as a result of difficult early experiences, or have a history of not being able to maintain significant relationships. It is possible that there are patterns to the way you relate to others that you are not aware of. In these circumstances, it can take longer for these issues to emerge, and be explored, and developing a trusting relationship with your therapist is an important part of the process. With brief therapy, if your depression is arising from a deeper issue it may feel as if you are just developing a relationship with your therapist when it is time for therapy to end, and this can compound your sense of loss further.
If you feel that you would benefit from longer term therapy, and would like to know more, please contact me.