What is Depression?

There is a difference between depression with a little ‘d’ – which we all get – and depression with a big ‘D’. Depression with a little ‘d’ is a natural response to having a bad day or hearing sad news. Depression with a big ‘D’ is when your whole energy and concentration is down and you are struggling to focus. It is a mental health condition which affects a person’s thinking, energy, feelings and behaviour. It’s not just having a bad day. If you have symptoms of depression you may not want to talk about it. However, talking about how you feel to your GP or family is a positive first step in learning how to manage Depression.

List of Symptoms of depression - acronym FESTIVAL  - Feeling sad, Energy low, Sleep - under or over sleeping, Thinking - poor concentration, Interest - loss of interest in hobbies, Value - low self esteem, Aches - tummy pain, headaches associated with anxiety, Life  - suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of depression>>
Causes of depression>>
What should I do>>
Types of depression>>
About bipolar mood disorder>>

Symptoms of  depression

Depression has eight main symptoms. If you experience five or more of these symptoms, lasting for a period of two weeks or more, please speak to a GP or mental health professional. The symptoms of depression are:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or bored
  • Low energy, feeling tired or fatigued
  • Under-sleeping or over-sleeping,waking frequently during the night
  • Poor concentration, thinking slowed down
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of guilt
  • Aches and pains with no physical basis, e.g. chest, head or tummy pain  associated with anxiety or stress
  • Loss of interest in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts


What causes it?

Depression has a number of possible causes. For some people, it happens because of a traumatic life event such as bereavement, relationship breakdown, financial difficulties or bullying. In other situations, the person may have an inherent tendency towards depression, and such genetic factors can be key in the case of bipolar disorder. This mood disorder involves not just periods of depression, but also periods of elation, where the person’s mood is significantly higher than normal. During these periods, a person may have excessive energy with little need for sleep, may have grandiose ideas and may engage in risk-taking behaviour.  

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What should I do if I think I am depressed?

The most important thing to do is speak to a doctor or mental health professional in order to get a correct diagnosis. There are a number of treatments for depression, depending on the cause and severity of symptoms and a professional is best placed to decide which, if any, treatment is most appropriate. Accessing reliable information is also vital. As well as online information booklets and online talks Aware offers free information packs – call 01 661 7211 or email to request one.

Talking through concerns with someone who understands can also be a help: the Freephone Aware Support Line is available on 1890 80 48 48 or you can email us for support at supportmail@aware.ie Aware depression support groups can also be a huge help: see our map of support groups for the nearest location to you. Support groups for individuals with depression are available nationwide, with support groups for relatives also offered in some areas.

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Types of depression 

Mild depression

A person with mild depression typically experiences tiredness, some early morning wakening, indecision, poor concentration and loss of confidence. It is important to note here that the person will not necessarily feel depressed.

Moderate depression

Most of the symptoms of depression as listed above are present: the person feels depressed, is extremely fatigued, has marked sleep disturbance and appears to others to be depressed.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been proven to reduce levels of mild to moderate depression. Aware offers two free CBT based programmes called Life Skills.

Severe depression

In addition to the symptoms of moderate depression, the person’s judgement is impaired in a severe depression – i.e. they have an extremely negative and pessimistic view of their own self-worth and future prospects. Strong suicidal thoughts (or intent) will also be present.

Someone suffering a severe depressive episode may have delusions or false beliefs (e.g. that they are evil, wicked, bankrupt or terminally ill) or may suffer from hallucinations (hearing voices or having visions) with similar themes. When delusions or hallucinations are present, the depression is referred to as a psychotic depression. Such depressions are an extreme extension of the negative thinking that is part of a mild or moderate depression.

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Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder involves both depressive periods and their opposite, which are known as elations or manic periods. Symptoms of the depressed phase are the same as those of unipolar depression described above:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or bored
  • Low energy, feeling tired or fatigued
  • Under- or over-sleeping, or waking frequently during the night
  • Poor concentration, thinking slowed down
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life
  • Aches and pains with no physical basis, e.g. chest/head/tummy pain associated with anxiety or stress
  • Loss of interest in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts.

If five or more of the symptoms above are present for a period of two weeks or more, it is most likely a depressive episode and you should talk to a medical professional.

The symptoms of elation (mania) are:

  • Feeling elated, enthusiastic, excited, angry, irritable or depressed
  • Increased energy, ‘never felt as well’, over-talkative or over-active
  • Reduced need for sleep and marked difficulty in getting off to sleep
  • Racing thoughts, ‘pressure in the head’, indecision, jumping from one topic to another, poor concentration
  • Increased interest in pleasurable activities, new adventures, sex, alcohol, street drugs, religion, music or art muscle tension at the back of the   head or round the shoulders
  • Thinking that one can live forever, taking reckless physical risks or, if angry or distressed, feeling suicidal.

If five or more of these symptoms of elation are present for more than two weeks, it may be a manic episode, and it is advisable to seek professional medical advice.

Dr Patrick McKeon, Consultant Psychiatrist, St. Patrick’s University Hospital provides an informative lecture (2014) about:

•    Understanding bipolar disorder
•    The signs and symptoms
•    The causes
•    The impact on people’s lives
•    Treatment
•    The skills needed for staying well.

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