The word ‘depression’ is sometimes used to describe feelings of low mood which affect us all from time to time. Feeling sad is a normal reaction to experiences that are upsetting, stressful or difficult; these feelings will usually pass.
However, depression is an illness with intense feelings of persistent sadness, helplessness and hopelessness that are accompanied by physical effects such as sleeplessness, loss of energy and other symptoms (see below). These feelings last for an extended period of time and negatively affect a person’s quality of life. Sometimes people may not realise how depressed they are, especially if they have been feeling this way for a long time. Feeling low may have become normalised.
Low moods associated with depression can be mild, moderate or severe, and last for weeks or months, rather than days. Persistent depressive disorder, also called dysthymia, is a continuous long-term and chronic form of depression.
People of all ages suffer from depression, and experience symptoms of depression, including children, teens and young adults. Older adults can feel depressed because of life changes that happen as we get older, which sometimes cause feelings of unease, loneliness, loss and sadness.
People with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression themselves. Depression is an illness with real consequences and risk to wellbeing and is not a form of weakness or failure. Many famous leaders are known to have suffered from depression including Winston Churchill, the American president, Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi.
Depression is not something you can ‘snap out of’. Anyone can experience depression and if you’ve been diagnosed with depression, you may wonder what is happening to you. You may be concerned that the depressive feelings and mood changes will never end. You may notice that depression has affected many different areas of your life. Depression may impact on family relationships, your performance at work, your physical health and in how you view yourself and the world. You may experience social isolation, despair, stress, sadness and a lack of energy and interest. You may experience a loss of hope or severe anxiety. You may feel that you are not coping well.
The first step in fighting depression is to understand what it is, how it affects you and what may be causing it. There are several approaches and techniques an experienced therapist might employ to help you understand and alleviate depression.
Everyone’s experience of depression is different. However, several specific types of depression have been identified: