We all feel down or a “bit blue” every now and then. However, this is not depression. Depression is a condition characterised by chronic low mood and a range of other symptoms, mental, physical and social. These include: -
- Continuous low mood, or sadness,
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Feeling irritable and intolerant towards others
- Lack of motivation, and little interest in things in general
- Suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of harming someone else
- Feeling anxious or worried
- A reduced sex drive (loss of libido)
- Slowed movement and speech
- Change in appetite and weight
- Digestive complaints, such as indigestion, constipation or diarrhoea
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Lack of energy and a lack of interest in sex (lower libido)
- And, for women, changes to the menstrual cycle
- Not performing well at work or at school/college/university
- Taking part in fewer social activities, and avoiding contact with friends
- Reduced hobbies and interests
- Difficulties in home and with family life.
This list is not exhaustive. The presentation of depression can vary from person to person.
Depression also has a range of causes. These can usually be divided into the following: -
Sometimes, particularly after a stressful live event (such as an assault or any other traumatic event, a reactive depression may occur. This is depression that can usually be traced back tot hat one life event.
This is caused by changes in the chemistry of the brain. It is known that a lack of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine can cause depression. Also, changes in hormone levels (either up or down) may case depression. In women this can be seen during or after childbirth, the menstrual cycle or the menopause
Not a “cause” as such, but certainly an influencing factor. You are more likely to develop depression is there is a history of it in your family, especially amongst first-degree relatives (e.g. Parent). This does not mean, if you do have a history of depression in your family you will suffer from depression yourself (just like it doesn’t mean that if there is no history of depression in your family, you will never develop depression).
It is important not to “self-diagnose” yourself with depression. It is also important not to be ashamed to ask for help. If you suspect you have depression then please see your GP.
Depression is treatable and the following methods are usually used: -
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling
. These are two types of “talking treatments”. CBT is based on the principle that the way we feel is partly dependent on the way we think about things. It teaches the person to behave in ways that challenge and change negative thoughts. Counselling allows a person to think about the problems they are experiencing in your life, in order to find new ways of dealing with them.
. Ideally, mild to moderate depression should be treated with CBT/counselling (with or without anti-depressants). However, this is often not possible and you may be placed on anti-depressants alone. SSRIs (selective serotonin rebutake inhibitors) are the newer, more common anti-depressants. If you are placed on anti-depressants you must be patient. They will not have an instant effect and it can take two to four weeks for them to take effect.
. It is possible to control depression by making simple changes in your lifestyle. This can include: -
- Increasing the amount of exercise that you do. Exercise can trigger the release of the brain chemical serotonin, which boosts mood. A structured programme of aerobic exercise, such as swimming, walking or jogging can be effective in treating depression.
- Learn how to relax using relaxation exercises and tapes
- Practice yoga, meditation or have a massage to help relieve tension and anxiety
- Join a self-help group and discuss your feelings
For more information please see the Depression Alliance