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Depression

Written by Dr Claudia Pastides, 8th February 2019

With 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experiencing it at some point in their lives, depression is one of the top reasons that people will consult their GP.

Although depression is fairly common and treatment is effective (4 out of 5 people will be cured by 6 months), there are still too many suffering in silence due to a stigma around mental health conditions and not receiving help early enough.

The most important (but sometimes hardest) step is reaching out to someone who will listen and starting a conversation about how you really feel.

How does depression feel?

Depression feels different for every individual but on the whole the common symptoms include:

  • Feeling low in mood
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Having little interest or pleasure in doing the things that you used to enjoy

We all have days or moments when we might feel that way but depression is different in that it often will last weeks or months, and it begins to gradually affect your everyday life.

Depression can cause you to:

  • Lose your self-confidence
  • Feel like you aren’t able to cope
  • Struggle making decisions and concentrating
  • Avoid other people and stop socialising
  • Feel really tired, restless and sometimes agitated
  • Lose your appetite and lose weight (on occasions it can cause the opposite)
  • Struggle to sleep

Occasionally depression can get so bad that you think that life is not worth living and you might contemplate suicide. In such cases it is important to speak to a healthcare professional urgently.

If you're worried about acting on thoughts of suicide, you can call an ambulance, go straight to A&E or call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 to talk.

How is depression diagnosed?

A GP will diagnose depression based on asking you a number of questions about your mood, your past medical history, family history and lifestyle.

You might hear them asking the following 2 questions:

  1. During the last month have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
  2. Do you have little interest or pleasure in doing things?

Thereafter the GP will ask you more questions about how the way you are feeling is affecting your daily life and what could be causing or contributing to your depression.

What causes depression?

There isn’t usually one thing alone that causes depression and anyone can suffer with it. It tends to be a combination of factors that make a person more vulnerable to depression, which is then triggered by a stressful or distressing event (for example the death of a loved one, loss of a job or difficulty in a relationship).

You are at greater risk of being depressed if you:

  • are socially isolated (don’t have anyone to turn to)
  • have a long term health condition
  • drink a lot of alcohol regularly
  • have had depression before
  • have a family history of mental health disease (for example if you have one parent who has had severe depression, you are 8 times more likely to become depressed)

Pregnancy and the first years after a child’s birth is also a time when some mums and dads will experience depression. Perinatal mental illness affects up to 20% of women and can have an impact on the emotional and social development of the children in the family.

How is depression treated?

The best way to tackle depression is by speaking to someone that you trust and feel comfortable discussing your feelings with.

There are things that you can do yourself at home such as:

  • Eating well and regularly
  • Keeping active, whether it be going out for a walk or doing some jobs around the house
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, as these can make depression worse
  • Self help books/computer programmes on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Exercise

If your feelings are affecting your work, lifestyle or the way you feel about friends and family, it is a good idea to book an appointment to speak to a GP.

Your GP can support you through your depression, refer you for group or 1-to-1 psychotherapy and/or prescribe antidepressants.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants can be very helpful for some people with depression. Examples of commonly prescribed antidepressants include:

  • Citalopram
  • Sertraline
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)

Antidepressants increase the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain that are normally affected during a bout of depression, and so improve a person’s mood.

Antidepressants are not addictive and most people aren’t on them for long, however it is best to discuss stopping them with a doctor first and to come off them gradually.


More information

For more information on depression and links to support organisations, take a look at:

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://youngminds.org.uk/ (for young people)

http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/ (for pre and post pregnancy)