What is Depression?

We all feel sad at times and sadness is a natural reaction and emotion for us to have. Individuals with clinical depression experience long-term low mood accompanied by somatic and cognitive changes. These changes can significantly affect the individual’s capacity to function and complete even basic tasks. The severity is based on the amount of functional impairment experienced, the length of time they’ve been experienced and the severity of symptoms. One in four of us with experience depression to some degree in our lifetimes.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depressive symptoms fall into three categories and can include:

Thoughts and emotions

  • Continuous low mood or sadness
  • Feeling helpless (and sometimes suicidal thoughts)
  • Feeling worthless 
  • Guilt
  • Feeling tearful

Physical symptoms

  • Sleep disturbance (sleeping less or more than normal)
  • Changes to eating pattern 
  • Fatigue
  • Experiencing no enjoyment from activities that you previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating 

Behaviours 

  • Irritability 
  • Finding it hard to motivate yourself
  • Staying home/in bed more
  • Isolating yourself from friends and family 

Not every person with depression will have all of these symptoms but they are likely to have some from each category. These symptoms will make life much more difficult and may, in extreme circumstances, prevent the individual from leaving their home. The different symptoms can play into each other and make the situation worse like the image below (Source: getselfhelp.co.uk):

What causes depression?

Like many mental health conditions, there is no one cause. It is thought to be a combination of genetic vulnerabilities, chemical imbalances, past trauma, stressful life events, amongst many others. 

Depression is not a sign of weakness and people with depression cannot just “pull themselves together”. In fact, it’s thought that people who push themselves and don’t ask for help are the most likely to experience this mental health condition. It is not the fault of the depressed individual either. Some of the strongest people I have met have been those suffering from depression who have come to therapy for support. The stigma around depression can prevent people seeking additional help from friends and family or support from counselling. We wouldn’t view someone who had broken their leg as physically weak, so we shouldn’t consider those with depression to be mentally weak, in the same way. 

Getting help

Getting the right support for depression is key. Self care, talking to friends, spending time in nature and physical exercise are all known to help lift our mood. Sometimes we need additional support and seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you understand what is happening and help you find a positive way forward. MIND have some great self-help tips for improving your mood and general wellbeing – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/self-care/

“If you know someone who is depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation: depression just is, like the weather.”

Stephen Fry

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