Depression is a mental health condition which causes upsetting feelings for prolonged periods of time. Some people still think depression is a trivial condition, which means that an individual is feeling a bit down in the dumps, but this is not the case and depression can have severe implications for the way people live their lives.

Depression is very common and it is estimated that 1 in 10 people in the UK will be affected by depression at some point in their lives. Depression can affect men and women of all ages and it is also possible for children to suffer from the condition.

There are different types of depression, including postnatal depression, bipolar disorder (this used to be known as manic depression) and SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

What causes depression?

There are many possible causes of depression and often several factors contribute to an individual developing depression. There are many things that can trigger depression, including:

  • Illness and health problems.
  • Traumatic life events, such as divorce or bereavement.
  • Financial worries.
  • Relationship troubles.
  • Family history.
  • Giving birth (depression after birth is known as postnatal depression).
  • Long-term illnesses or trauma, such as suffering severe injuries following an accident.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse.

People can develop depression for different reasons and depression can be mild, moderate or severe. In its mildest form depression may be characterised by feeling low for prolonged periods of time, while severe depression can make even the most basic daily tasks impossible.

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms of depression vary according to the individual and some people have much milder symptoms than others. Depression causes both physical and psychological symptoms and it can also have an impact on your social life and the way you behave around other people.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Continually feeling upset or down.
  • Lack of motivation, interest and excitement.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling guilty.
  • Anxiety and worry.
  • Finding it hard to make decisions.
  • Feeling emotional and teary.
  • Being irritable.
  • Loss of sexual libido.
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Unexplained aches and pains.
  • Changes in appetite and body weight.
  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Changes to the menstrual cycle.

Social symptoms include:

  • Poor performance at work.
  • Becoming distant and isolated.
  • Avoiding contact with friends and family members.
  • Lack of interest in social activities.

When should I see a doctor?

If you experience symptoms associated with depression for a prolonged period of time, it is important that you see your GP, as the earlier you are treated the better. In some cases, depression is confused with grief and if you are unsure whether or not you have depression visit your GP.

How is depression diagnosed?

Depression is a serious condition and it is important that you see your GP if you think you may have the condition. When you see your GP they will ask you questions about your symptoms and they may carry out tests to rule out conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as thyroid problems. GPs use questionnaires to diagnose depression and, in most cases, two classification systems, known as the International Classification of Diseases and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, are used. The information you share with your GP will be held in the strictest confidence and it is important that you are honest about your symptoms and feel comfortable sharing how you feel.

If your GP thinks you have depression they will decide upon an appropriate course of action, and if you have severe depression your GP will refer you for treatment.

Treating depression

There are various treatment options available for patients with depression and treatment will usually depend on the severity of your condition and the cause of symptoms. In very mild cases, GPs may advise a policy of watchful waiting, which means that they will advise you to go back after 2 weeks and see them again. If your symptoms have not improved, they will arrange treatment.

Talking therapies: talking therapies, including psychotherapy, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy can be very helpful, as they allow people to talk about their emotions and feelings, identify sources of upset or anxiety and develop effective coping mechanisms. Talking therapies can also help to increase self-esteem and build confidence.

Medication: anti-depressants may be prescribed in some cases. There are over 30 different types of medication available and your GP will decide which best suits your individual needs.

In many cases of moderate or severe depression a combination of therapies and medication will be recommended.

If you have severe depression you may be referred to a community mental health team. The team is made up of people who have expertise in mental health conditions and they can help people to maintain their independence while getting the help and support they need.


There are certain things you can do to ease symptoms and people with depression often find the following helpful:

  • Exercise: exercise is one of the most effective treatments for mild depression as it will help to build self-esteem, as well as providing an outlet for anger and stress and contributes to good general health as well.
  • Keeping busy and active.
  • Avoiding negative people or places you associate with unhappy or stressful times.
  • Think positive.
  • Set goals.
  • Take pride in yourself.
  • Ask for help if you need it.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and look after your body by avoiding drinking too much and taking drugs.
  • Take time to enjoy your own company and relax: have a massage or warm bath, take time out to read a book, watch a film or go for a walk.

Help and support

Depression can be devastating for individuals and their loved ones but there is a great deal of support and help out there; from your GP and community mental health teams to charities such as Mind and the Mental Health Foundation and groups that meet to share experiences and help each other. Your GP will be able to give you details of local support groups in your area.

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