What is depression?
Negative emotions are natural in response to various life experiences and as such, everyone goes through periods of distress or feeling ‘down’. However, when low mood persists for weeks or months with little improvement, you may be experiencing depression. Depression is increasingly prevalent in modern society and can present in mild, moderate or severe symptoms. Some of the most common physical, psychological and social symptoms of depression are:
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Disturbed sleep (Restless sleep, insomnia or hypersomnia)
- Exhaustion or lack of energy
- Low motivation
- Self-neglect (such as poor hygiene)
- Loss of libido (low sex drive)
- Continuous sadness
- Apathy (feeling numb)
- Feeling hopeless or ‘stuck’
- Feeling tearful
- Difficulty coping with daily tasks
- Loss of interest in things that used to be enjoyable
- Suicidal thoughts
- Intrusive negative thoughts (such as harming yourself)
- Social withdrawal and increased isolation
- Avoidance of interaction
- Neglecting hobbies/interests
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it may be useful to speak with your GP or seek psychological assessment to explore your experience in more depth. Please note that depression is sometimes a by-product of another issue, therefore some of the symptoms may align with a different diagnosis. With professional support you can establish an appropriate course of action depending on the symptoms, the severity and how they impact upon your ability to function.
Types of depression
Typically, people move between mild, moderate and severe depression during one episode or across different episodes of depression. Therefore, it is important to communicate symptoms and fluctuations as accurately as possible, which will inform the treatment or intervention offered to you.
There are various types of depression that are diagnosed according to how your symptoms present, for example:
- Clinical depression- Sometimes referred to as ‘Major depression’ is often diagnosed when symptoms are severe and long-term with significant impact upon ability to function
- Recurrent depressive disorder- Characterised by repeated episodes of diagnosed depression (ranging from mild-severe)
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)- Onset of depression is at a particular time of year or during a particular season
- Dysthymia – Continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more, also called persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression
- Prenatal depression- Onset of depression is during pregnancy
- Postnatal depression- Onset of depression is during the first year of giving birth
- Reactive depression- Onset of depression in response to particular stressful events in your life, such as divorce or financial concerns
- Severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms- Onset of depression with hallucinations or delusions. A hallucination means you might hear, see, smell, taste or feel things that aren’t real. A delusion means that you might believe things that don’t match reality. These symptoms are called psychosis.
- Manic depression- This is a term which is no longer used for bipolar disorder, which is a different mental health disorder to depression. People with bipolar disorder experience highs (mania) and lows (depression), the frequency and intensity of which can vary
- Cyclothymia- Presents similarly to bipolar disorder with mood fluctuations that are not frequent or intense enough to be diagnosed as clinical depression
Causes of depression
In most cases there is a trigger or cause for the onset of depression, for example, life changing events including bereavement or trauma. However, research shows that there are other factors to consider when exploring possible causes of depression, which include the following:
- Genetics- You are at higher risk of depression if family members have a diagnosis)
- Abuse- Physical, emotional, sexual or neglect
- Medication- Some medications may cause side effects that you react negatively towards
- Bereavement- See section on website for more information
- Hormones- Research indicates correlations between depression and changes in the menstrual cycle and during menopause
- Serious illness- Onset of depression can occur during or after the experience of a medical condition
- Substance misuse- A significant risk factor for onset of depression according to research and often engaged in as a result of depression as a form of ‘self-medication
Therapy for depression
Talking therapy is one of the primary recommendations for the effective treatment of Depression, particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT). Typically, the psychological and biological aspects of depression are taken into consideration before treatment. Please note that it is possible to make progress in therapy if you are on medication, despite some myths surrounding this topic. Even if you aim to reduce or come off medication, therapy is an option which can help you achieve your goals safely and with ongoing support at every step.
Your counsellor / psychologist will listen to you without judging you and offer an outlet for you to express your feelings, no matter how severe. In online therapy there are various options that your therapist may present to you depending on your needs and what you are hoping to achieve. Whilst CBT is one option that may be useful to address unhelpful thinking patterns and address unhealthy cycles of behaviour, is not the only option available and therapy is certainly not a ‘one shoe fits all’ process. Therefore, you will be able to collaborate on a plan that suits you specifically and perhaps discover the appropriate steps you can take to understand and overcome the cause and effect of depression. You may develop a toolkit or new attitude that helps you to reach your goals and rebuild happiness and fulfilment in your life.