Depression is a broad term commonly used to describe a set of symptoms that can range from mild, requiring little or no treatment, to symptoms severe enough to interfere with a person’s life on a daily basis and sometimes to the extent that life in itself can become intolerable. According to the Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity Report 2001, a quarter of all adults living in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem during the course of any one year.

Depression is a mental health problem that can affect any one of us at any time of our lives. It is indiscriminate of age, gender, culture and background. The Patient UK website states that 2 out of 3 adults will experience an episode of depression at some point and the Mental Health Foundation quote that that 10% of children up to the age of 15 have a mental health disorder.

So how do we know if we are suffering from depression? Milder symptoms of depression include short bouts of low moods, lethargy, sadness and feeling a bit fed up and out of sorts, and these will often disappear after a few days or so. However, clinical depression is more serious in that it isn’t possible to just “snap out of it” and symptoms can persist for weeks, months and even years without proper help.

Some symptoms of depression

• Feeling tired and lethargic for most of the time
• Persistent low moods and sadness, a feeling of despondency
• Sleep disturbances, either inability to sleep or sleeping too much
• A pessimistic outlook on life
• Feeling anxious and nervous
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Frightening and irrational thoughts
• Loss of pleasure in activities and lack of interest in sex
• Avoidance of social contact and social situations
• Loss of appetite or an increased appetite and associated weight loss or weight gain
• Emotional outbursts for no apparent reason
• Irritability

Each and every one of us can experience one or more of these symptoms at times without being depressed, however, if symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks or they interrupt your ability to function on a daily basis then the chances are you might be suffering from depression.

Who suffers from depression?

Life changing events can sometimes precipitate a period of depression including having a baby, death of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, money worries and debt, problems at work, physical illness and disability. Some groups of people are more at risk of a depressive illness than others and these include the long term sick and unemployed, the homeless, single parents, those who are in care or institutions, those with a past history of depressive illnesses themselves or in their family, and those battling with alcohol or substance abuse problems. Chemical imbalances, genetics and physiological factors can play a role in some types of depressive disorders. Seasonal changes involving the long dark winter days and nights can bring on an episode of depression, and for others; there is no apparent or identifiable reason at all. According to research statistics, women are more likely than men to seek help for a mental health problem or depression however, men are more likely to commit suicide as a result of being depressed.

Common types of depression

Clinical Depression can be described as a depression that is severe enough to require the help and intervention of a health care professional. It is sometimes referred to as unipolar depression.

Bi-polar or manic depression manifests itself in extreme mood swings alternating between episodes of intense euphoria and despair with relatively stable periods in between. The duration of the episodes and the gaps between them vary from person to person. During a high or manic period, the bipolar sufferer can feel euphoric, is excitable, needs little sleep and can be highly creative. The lows on the other hand can be devastatingly difficult with a loss of interest in everything, feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness and even suicidal tendencies. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists leaflet on depression, 1 in 10 people suffer from Bipolar.

Post Natal Depression can occur after giving birth. The symptoms are similar to those of common depression and can range from a very mild and normal period of “baby blues” lasting a few days to a severe type of depression that requires clinical intervention.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression occurring during the winter months, and is thought to be linked to a lack of sunlight so in addition to the usual treatment for depression, light-therapy can be helpful.

It is not known why some people suffer from depression and not others and although some people appear more prone to episodes of depression, there is no one cause of depression and many variations in the way a depressive disorder can presents itself. The severity of the symptoms and the impact that depression can have on an individual’s life varies from person to person but with a proper diagnosis, the appropriate help can be made available. Depression is treatable.