A guide to depression: understanding low mood

Depression is very common - one in five people become depressed at some point in their lives. Someone is said to be suffering from depression when low feelings linger for some time and become so intrusive they interfere with everyday life.

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 usually pass.

However, depression is an illness with intense feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness that are accompanied by physical effects such as sleep problems and loss of energy. These feelings last for weeks or months 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.

People of all ages suffer from depression, including children and teens.

People with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression themselves. 

Depression is an illness with real consequences and is not a form of weakness or failure. Many famous leaders are known to have suffered from depression including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.

Depression is not something you can snap out of. If you’re suffering from 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. 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.

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.

Types of depression

Reactive depression

This type of depression is triggered by an event such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, financial problems or a health problem. This type tends to be easier to understand, as the source of the low feelings is usually known.

Persistent depressive disorder

Also called dysthymia, this is a continuous long-term and chronic form of depression. It can last for years.

Endogenous depression

Endogenous depression is not always triggered by an upsetting or stressful event. Those affected by this common form of depression may experience physical symptoms such as weight change, fatigue, sleeping problems and low mood as well as poor concentration and low self-esteem. As the trigger for this type of depression isn’t apparent, it can feel very confusing. 

Bipolar disorder (previously called manic depression)

People with bipolar disorder experience mood swings with highs of excessive energy and elation, and lows of utter despair and lethargy. At its worst, delusions or hallucinations can occur. Most people with this condition usually have their first episode in their late teens or early twenties. This type of depression is less common than many others.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

This type of depression generally coincides with the approach of autumn or winter. It is often linked to the shortening of daylight hours and lack of sunlight. Symptoms of SAD may include wanting to sleep excessively and cravings for carbohydrates or sweet foods. Special lights that mimic sunlight are sometimes used to treat SAD.

Postnatal depression

Some women become depressed after having a baby. This type of depression can be particularly distressing if the mother thinks she should be enjoying the arrival of her new baby. It can lead to feelings of guilt and a sense of not coping with motherhood. Around one in ten new mothers experiences postnatal depression.

Depression and women

It has been found that around one in four women is diagnosed with depression, compared to one in 10 men. Various reasons have been suggested for this difference. One belief is that various social and biological factors predispose women to depression. Some experts believe that men experience depression more often than statistics indicate, and the discrepancy is mostly due to men being less likely to acknowledge depressive feelings.

Depression and men

It has been suggested that clinical depression is less frequently diagnosed in men because men present different symptoms to their GPs. As a generalisation, men are less likely than women to acknowledge or discuss difficult emotions. Men sometimes turn to alcohol or aggression to mask depressive feelings, which can exacerbate the depression. Though depression is less common in men than in women, the suicide rate is much higher in men than in women. Suicide remains the most common cause of death in British men under the age of 35.

Symptoms of depression

One of the reasons that depression can be hard to spot is that we all experience some of the symptoms at times. Depression involves the persistent and long-lasting experience of a number of these symptoms:

  • low energy
  • persistent sadness
  • low self-confidence or self esteem
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • feeling unable to enjoy things that are normally pleasurable
  • undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • sleeping problems – too much sleep or too little
  • avoiding people and social isolation
  • loss of appetite
  • self-harm
  • increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • crying, sometimes inexplicably
  • feeling unmotivated
  • not coping with things that used to be manageable
  • restlessness, impatience or boredom
  • preoccupation with negative thoughts
  • losing interest in sex or intimacy
  • thinking about death or suicide.

Treatment for depression

Depression, whether mild or severe, is a treatable illness. It is normally managed by talking through difficult feelings and experiences with a professional therapist, by taking medication or a combination of the two. 

If depression is interfering with your day-to-day functioning, or if you have had thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek the support of your doctor or a psychotherapist. Discussions in counselling are confidential and speaking to someone could be the first step in releasing yourself from the grip of depression. Most therapists have a great deal of experience in helping people with depression.

Self help

There are many things people can do to help alleviate episodes of depression. These techniques for coping with depression should be seen as complementary to professional help rather than an alternative to it. 

Share your experiences

Depression can be reduced by talking to other people who may have had similar experiences. You may find comfort in talking with friends, family members or a support group. Sometimes talking to loved ones feels too hard, as they are too close. That’s where contacting a therapist can help. The therapy room is a safe space to discuss whatever you need to discuss without having to worry about how it impacts the other person.

Inform yourself

Knowledge is power and equipping yourself with information about depression can make it feel more manageable. Being well-informed can reduce misconceptions, guilt and fear. There is a wealth of information about depression available online, from your doctor and from relevant charities and mental health organisations.

Exercise

Physical activity releases chemicals into the bloodstream that can help in the fight against depression. Exercise can also provide a sense of personal achievement and self-care, both of which counteract some of the negative thoughts and feelings associated with depression.

Relax

Depression is often associated with stress and anxiety. Depression-related sleep problems can add to an overall sense of fatigue and weariness. Finding ways to relax that work for you can have a significant impact on depression. Activities like yoga, meditation, walking, reading and listening to your favourite music may help.

Next steps

If you think you may be suffering from depression, contact us or book an initial consultation. Just taking the step of booking yourself an appointment can help you to feel better. 

Our therapists are carefully chosen for their warmth and understanding. They want to help and will put you at ease.

Sources

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, www.rcpsych.ac.uk/metalhealthinformation (2010)

Better or Worse: A Longitudinal Study of the Mental Health of Adults in Great Britain, National Statistics (2003)

Samaritans Information Resource Pack (2004)

The National Service Framework for Mental Health, Department of Health (2005)

www.depressionalliance.org

www.mind.org.uk

Word Health Organization (Accessed 23/06/2021)

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (Accessed 23/06/2021)

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