Many believe that depression is just about feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days, but there is much more to this mental health condition than that. Some people also claim that the condition is trivial and not a genuine health condition. Again, they are wrong.
Depression, along with anxiety, is the most common mental disorder in the UK. The Mental Health Foundation say that 7.8% of people meet the criteria for diagnosis, with 4-10% of people in England expected to experience depression in their lifetime.
In today’s article, we will take a look at the types of depression, the causes, symptoms, and the best ways of treating your condition. For a look at other medical conditions, please see our in-depth guide.
What is Depression?
The mental health charity, Mind, define depression in the following way:
Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life. In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.”
Depression is a real condition with real symptoms. There are also different types of the condition, such as mild, moderate, and severe cases for example. This diagnosis will depend on the size of the impact that it is having on your life.
There are also specific types of depression, which can be seen below:
- Dysthymia – Continuous mild depression with lasts for more than two years. This is also commonly known as chronic depression.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – Depression that usually occurs in the winter months, due to the long evenings and cold, dark weather.
- Prenatal depression – Occurs during pregnancy.
- Postnatal depression – Occurs in the weeks and months after becoming a parent. Although most common in women, men can also be affected.
Put simply, depression affects how you feel, the way you think, and the way you act.
There are a number of different triggers that can cause somebody to suffer from depression. Each case will have a different beginning, whether it be a big life event or a series of little factors combining to trigger the condition.
For everybody, a stressful and upsetting life event can quite easily cause depression. Examples of such an incident would be a bereavement, divorce, illness or being made redundant at work. Many people will cut themselves off from the outside world, including friends and family, during these upsetting times and try to deal with their problems on their own.
For older people in particular, loneliness can be a common cause of depression. Not having your friends and family around you, or not having any social activities to take part in, can cause you to become sad and lonely. Over time, your risk of depression will only increase due to your lonely lifestyle.
Certain personality traits may also trigger the condition. For example, those with low self-esteem and body confidence may be more at risk of becoming depressed. This may be because of the genes you’ve inherited from your parents, your early life experiences, or both.
Other possible causes of depression include:
- A lack of sleep – Sleeping less will affect your mood and will make it harder for you to cope with difficult things happening in your life.
- A poor diet – This can affect your mood and if it has an effect on your weight, can lead to low self-esteem.
- Medication and drugs – Depression is a common side affect of various types of medication. It’s important to always discuss side effects with your doctor. Alcohol and drugs can both cause depression.
- Genetics – Although there is no specific gene for depression, research has found that you’re most likely to be diagnosed if a close family member has suffered in the past.
- Stress – Being stressed constantly can take its toll on your mood.
- Illness – You may have a higher risk of depression if you have a longstanding or life-threatening illness, such as heart disease or cancer.
Interestingly, it has been reported that national events can also trigger mental health issues such as depression. For example, The Telegraph reported that a study by King’s College London revealed that relative to wider prescribing, there was a 13.4% increase in antidepressant prescription in the month following the June 2016 Brexit referendum, compared to the previous year.
How to tell if you have Depression
As previously mentioned, depression affects people in different ways – therefore causing several different symptoms. The symptoms of depression range from mild to severe. At its mildest, you may simply feel persistently low in spirit, while severe depression can make you feel suicidal, that life is no longer worth living.
According to data revealed in The Telegraph, over the course of their life, one in five British adults had thoughts of suicide – with this number increasing to 22.4% among women.
The types of symptoms that you may experience can be split into what you’re feeling and how you might behave. For example, you may begin to feel upset, restless, worthless, empty and isolated as you’re unable to relate to others. It might be that you no longer find pleasure in life, even things that you usually enjoy.
Changes in your behaviour may include:
- Avoiding social events and activities that you usually enjoy.
- Difficulty speaking or thinking clearly.
- Difficulty in remembering things.
- Not eating very well due to a lack of appetite.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned in this article or feel depressed in any way then you need to see your doctor as soon as possible.
The sooner to speak to your doctor about your feelings and moods the better. There are no tests for depression, but your doctor may carry out urine and blood tests to rule out other medical conditions that have similar symptoms.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your general health and how your feelings have been effecting you, mentally and physically. It’s important that you’re as open and honest with your doctor as possible so that he or she can determine whether you have the condition, and how severe your case is.
Remember that anything you say to your doctor will remain confidential.
The type of treatment you receive will depend on the severity or specific type of depression that you have been diagnosed with. Generally, treatment will involve a combination of self-help, talking therapies, and medication.
For mild cases, doctors take on the ‘watchful waiting’ practice. You will be seen by your doctor again, two weeks after your first visit. This is due to the fact that some cases of mild depression have improved over time. Another common treatment for mild depression is exercise, due to the positive mood that it can put you in.
For mild to moderate cases, your doctor may recommend a talking therapy class. Examples include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling. CBT will help you to understand your thoughts and behaviour and how they affect you. It teaches you how to overcome negative thoughts – for example, being able to challenge hopeless feelings.
For moderate to severe cases, you may be placed on antidepressants. There are 30 different types of this medication and they need to be prescribed by your doctor. If you have severe depression your doctor will also suggest that you seek talking therapy. You may also be referred to a mental health team made up of psychologists, psychiatrists, specialist nurses, and occupational therapists.
Living with Depression
There are self-help practices that you can take part in, alongside your treatment, to help control and beat your symptoms. Trying to get plenty of sleep is a must as this affects our moods in a big way. A good night sleep will help you to start your day in a positive way.
Eating healthily and exercising will also have a positive impact on your life. Exercising not only gets you out of the house, but it keeps you busy, improves your social life and also gets you in shape. As mentioned previously, low body confidence can be a trigger of depression so getting into shape can help boost your confidence.
A common suggestion is for you to write down what exactly makes you happy, including people, places, and activities. Trying to include all of these things in your daily routine can help to make you happy. Other life tips, provided by Mind, include:
- Treating yourself.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Challenge your thinking.
- Keep a mood diary.
- Keep in touch with friends and family.
- Join support groups.
Clinical depression is a condition that qualifies you for VAT exemption when purchasing a personal alarm. HMRC state that a product that has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. This criteria says that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness or a disability in order to qualify.
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Note: This article was originally published 14/12/2017 and updated 08/07/2021 to reflect current information.