We all feel sad at times during our lives, it’s part of being human. Depression, which is often called ‘clinical depression’ involves feeling sad (or low in mood) most of the time.
Depression can stop people enjoying things they like and can make it harder to do everyday tasks like housework and shopping.
Changes in the body
People experiencing depression may get aches and pains that seem to have no particular cause. They may feel tired most of the time, or they might feel restless. Sleep can be affected – some people experiencing depression may find it difficult to sleep whereas others might sleep a lot. Appetite may increase or decrease, causing changes in weight.
Changes in what you do
Depression can cause people to become less active and they might stop doing things they used to do. They may not enjoy things that they used to love doing. People experiencing depression may withdraw from relationships and friendships, and struggle to get out of the house. Some people find that their sex drive is lowered.
Depression can happen for lots of reasons
It’s often linked to stressful life events such as bereavement, redundancy, poverty, divorce or bullying. Depression may be linked to the way you are living your day-to-day life which may not be an easy thing to change, especially if your mood is low. You may feel trapped in a situation which you know is not conducive to wellbeing.
Many people say that a combination of circumstances or events led their feelings of depression.
People with long term physical health conditions are more likely to experience depression.
Isolation and loneliness are also common causes.
Some women are especially vulnerable to depression after pregnancy. Hormonal and physical changes, and the responsibility of a new life, can lead to postnatal depression.
People are more likely to develop depression if they tend to be very self-critical, or if a close family member has also experienced depression.
Some things can make depression worse
When a person has depression they might not want to talk to anybody about it, but this can make things worse things.
Many people turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping, but these can increase your experience of depression.
How can I help myself?
There are lots of things that people find helpful, such as:
- Talking to friends, family, staff or helpers about how you are feeling.
- Trying to eat well – regular, healthy meals.
- Trying to do some exercise – there’s good evidence that physical activity helps depression.
- Reconnecting with activities that were once pleasurable, like hobbies.
- Self-soothing – try to identify things in your life that you feel good about and write them down. Try having a warm bath or a comforting meal.
- Making small lifestyle changes, or making plans to change the way that you are living day-to-day.
How other people can help you
Depending on the nature of depression, there are a range of recommended treatments if self-help is not enough.
Talking therapies include cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal therapy and counselling.
There are around 30 different types of anti-depressant medication which may be prescribed on their own, in combination or alongside talking therapy.
Some people really benefit from support groups for depression, these are available in several parts of the UK.
For further information and support, visit the Depression Alliance website.
A common portrayal of depression is an image of somebody sat on the floor, hands on top of their head, a look of mental anguish and turmoil on their face. While some people may experience depression in this manner, and can be prone to such intense feelings and emotions, depression can be much more than this. It can manifest itself in different ways, and may not even appear visible to others – many people with depression are good at hiding it, and can, on the outside at least, appear as happy and functioning individuals. Yet deep inside things can be considerably different.
My experiences with depression are more ‘atypical’ in the sense that I have not had any ‘episodes’ or cycles of depression interspersed with periods of feeling relatively ‘normal’. My depression is classed as ‘dysthymia’, which is also known as ‘persistent depressive disorder’ or ‘neurotic depression’. While it is less severe than major depressive disorder, it is a chronic condition that can remain undiagnosed for years and can affect someone’s life significantly.
In my case, depression first became an issue in my late teens. It manifested itself as a general sense of sadness, poor motivation, and low self-esteem – while I was not suicidal in any way, I still questioned what the purpose of life and living was all about. Like many people with dysthymia, I found that it was difficult to find a sense of pleasure in things, including hobbies and interests, a symptom which is known as ‘anhedonia’. I also developed cravings for alcohol. I used to enjoy several pints of beer each night while playing computer games in my bedroom. I started looking forward to the evenings just so that I could enter into this slightly tipsy state, which provided a sense of ‘escape’. Despite this, I was still able to live a relatively normal life, finishing my degree and holding down full time employment in a bank.
My journey with depression did not end there. Partly because of a too-rapid discontinuation from a prescribed antidepressant, I experienced an exacerbation of my previous symptoms, and also started experiencing some new ones, which persisted even after I went back on antidepressants. I developed unexplained aches and pains, fatigue, poor concentration, memory, and other cognitive problems, emotional blunting, and dysphoria, a symptom characterised by a sense of unease, unhappiness, and anguish. I found that I was becoming less social, instead wanting to hide myself away from others and retreat to a ‘safe space’. I found that I had no real goals in life – as if I just existed from one day to the next.
While I am still recovering from this setback, and trying to manage my chronic depression as much as possible, there are a number of things that have helped me. One is to gain a sense of purpose in life – this doesn’t have to be paid employment, but could be volunteering, education, or even self-taught learning of an instrument or language. I have found that doing structured activities encourages me to be more sociable and helps me take my mind off any challenges I am going through, as well as helping me feel as if I am giving something back to society. I also found that limiting my alcohol consumption has helped – alcohol is after all a depressant.
I believe that exercise can help immensely. I enjoy hillwalking, and while I often start a walk feeling that I should have stayed in bed, I end the day feeling considerably more upbeat. Walking also enables me to engage with my other main hobby, photography, and looking at the photos afterwards helps me to associate walking with positive memories and emotions.
While chronic depression can be harder to treat than ‘classic’ acute depression, there are still ways that individuals can minimise negative emotions and gain more of a sense of hope and optimism. While I may live with this condition for the rest of my life, I have more awareness of it and how I can manage it constructively.