Depression - the fog of sadness
What is depression?
The word depression is used to describe an episode of low mood or unhappiness that lasts for longer than two weeks and can sometimes interfere with everyday life and normal activities like looking after yourself, your family or working.
1 in 4 people will suffer with depression at some time and women are more likely to suffer with depression than men. Statistics show that 19% of people over the age of 16 will have depression at some time – 19% are women and 16% are men.
The Office for National Statistics says that the highest incidence of mild mental illness is in women aged between 50 and 54.
Also people who are divorced are more likely to have mild or moderate depression than single, married, people in civil partnerships or widowed people.
(Statistics taken from The Office for National Statistics.)
What are the symptoms?
Listed below are the most common symptoms of depression. If you recognise 5 or more in yourself you may have depression.
1) Feeling low in mood most of the day
2) Crying or feeling tearful often
3) Feeling irritable or impatient
4) Not enjoying activities that you normally would
5) Feeling restless or agitated
6) Finding no pleasure in life
7) Feeling isolated and unable to relate to people
8) Avoiding social events
9) Feelings of despair, isolation and helplessness
10) Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
11 Feeling tired and having no energy
12) Loss of interest in food/weight loss
13) Comfort eating/gaining weight
14) Smoking or drinking more than you usually do
15) Feeling physically tired or feeling aches and pains
16) Loss of interest in sex
17) Loss of memory
18) Loss of concentration
19) Feeling guilty/blaming yourself for everything
20) No self-confidence or self-esteem
21) Negative thinking
22) Thoughts about self-harm or suicide
Sometimes it’s difficult to realise that you have depression as the symptoms can feel more physical than emotional. This is because depression has strong physical symptoms and affects the whole body, not just your mind.
What causes depression?
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly causes depression. Sometimes it’s caused by a traumatic event like a relationship breakup or bereavement, or feelings of fear such as phobias, bullying or isolation - or even physical issues like head injury, illness or old age.
People who suffer from a long term physical illness are more likely to suffer with periods of depression as their everyday life may be complicated with pain management, worry about the future, money issues and mobility problems. All of which can lead to isolation and a feeling of being unsupported and alone.
What can help?
If you think you have depression a visit to the doctor is advisable for two reasons. Firstly to rule out any physical illness that may be causing you to feel depressed. Illnesses like an underactive thyroid have similar emotional symptoms to depression, as does polymyalgia, hormone imbalance, head injury and rheumatic conditions. Secondly a visit to the doctor is advisable because the doctor can give you advice about how to treat your depression, which could include prescribing an antidepressant medication or referring you to a counsellor.
Antidepressants can be prescribed by your doctor to help moderate to severe depression. They can take up to four weeks to work and may have some side effects. They help by changing the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin can improve mood and help with stress, anxiety and depression. Antidepressants called Selective Serotonin Reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s like Prozac) work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain to more normal and effective levels, helping you to feel better and more able to cope.
The disadvantages are that they cannot change your circumstances. If your depression is caused by low self-esteem or because of life stresses - these issues will still be there. Having said that, medication can help you sleep, enable you to deal with anxiety and may give you the ability to deal with what’s happening.
Antidepressants can also cause side effects including headaches, nausea, diarrhoea, sweating, confusion, agitation and hypervigilance to name a few, and your doctor may need to readjust your prescription to suit you.
Your doctor may also refer you to a counsellor or advise you to find one yourself. Counselling helps people suffering with depression by offering them a safe and confidential environment for you to voice your concerns. This maybe the first time you have said these things out loud as sometimes it’s difficult to share your concerns with friends for fear that they will be upset or react by telling you to “pull your socks up” or by offering unwanted solutions or advice.
Your counsellor will help you find your own solutions and may help change your thinking and behaviour to improve the way you relate to people which can help you feel less isolated and unable to cope with your problems. Counselling can also take some time to work, but often having the chance to get things off your chest can have an instant effect.
How can I avoid depression?
The everyday stresses and strains of modern living coupled with unavoidable things like bereavement and loss means that it can be very difficult to avoid depression, particularly if you are someone who is predisposed to low mood. Taking care of yourself can be particularly useful and remembering to do this for your body and mind is important. Here are some suggestions to try although self care is very personal and you can develop your own self help list to suit you.
- Try and talk about how you feel with a friend who will understand so that you are not bottling up how you feel.
- Take care of yourself by eating and drinking the right things. It’s also important not to drink alcohol in excess or smoke if possible.
- Get plenty of sleep if you can, and if not find times in the day when you can rest.
- Be gentle to yourself and know that if something horrible happens to you in your life it will take time to recover from.
- Take time for yourself either to relax or to do something you enjoy. This enriches your life and a hobby could include contact with other people and making friends.
- Be aware that if you suffer from a debilitating physical illness, your mental well-being will need attention too.
- Try mediation as a way of calming your brain and body and finding space for reflection and solutions.
- Gentle exercise may help you feel better and can raise the endorphins in your brain to alleviate stress and relieve depression.
- Ask for help if you need it rather than worrying about being judged or misunderstood. Depression is a serious illness and can happen to anyone.
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