Depression is a mental health condition which affects a person’s thinking, feelings, energy and behavior.
The World Health Organisation define depression as “a common mental disorder, characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness and poor concentration” (WHO, 2017).
Depression is much more than having ‘a bad day’.
- Symptoms of depression
- What causes it?
- What should I do if I think I'm depressed
- Types of depression
- How is depression treated?
At Aware we describe depression as having 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:
- F eeling - sad, anxious, guilty, hopeless
- E nergy - low energy, feeling tired or fatigued
- S leeping - under or over-sleeping, waking frequently, change to your normal pattern
- T hinking - poor concentration, thinking slowed down
- I nterest - loss of interest in hobbies, family or social life, things that normally give you pleasure
- V alue - low self-esteem
- A ches - with no physical basis, e.g. chest, head or tummy pain associated with anxiety or stress
- L oss of interest - in living, thinking about death, suicidal thoughts
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. For some there may be genetic factors.
The most important thing to do is speak to a doctor or mental health professional in order to get a correct diagnosis. Aware suggest that if you have 5 or more FESTIVAL symptoms (see above) for 2 weeks or more, it is important to see your doctor. There are a number of treatments for depression, depending on the cause and severity of symptoms and a professional is best placed to decide, with you, which, if any, treatment is most appropriate.
Talking through concerns with someone who understands can also be a help, Aware has a number of free services that offer support and information:
A person with mild depression can typically experience tiredness, indecision, poor concentration and loss of confidence. They may experience anxiety about trivial matters that previously were not a concern. It is important to note here that the person will not necessarily feel depressed.
The symptoms of mild depression increase to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt and despair along with slowing of thinking. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been proven to reduce levels of mild to moderate depression. Aware offers two free CBT based programmes, one online Life Skills Online and one group programme Life Skills Group.
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. A person experiencing a severe depression can become withdrawn and find extreme difficulty performing basic activities of daily living such as washing and dressing.
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.
In any case where depression may be a factor, it is important that you talk to your GP or other appropriately-qualified health care professional about your symptoms in order to get a correct diagnosis. This will also help to rule out any physical cause, such as hypothyroidism, which may cause symptoms similar to those seen in depression. In Ireland, the GP is the foremost route to accessing the range of mental health care services which are available.
There are a number of treatment options for depression and other types of mood disorder. The best and most appropriate treatment option for you depends on your individual case, the likely cause of your depression and the severity of your symptoms. Treatments usually come under two main headings: medication and talking therapies. In some cases, a combination of both might be the most appropriate treatment plan. Other things that can prove helpful include:
- Regular exercise
- Reduction in caffeine intake as caffeine can cause increased heart rate and anxiety
- Avoiding alcohol as it is a depressant
- Access support: Aware offers free CBT based programmes, Life Skills Online and Life Skills Group as well as daily support via our Support Line and Support Mail.
You may wish to check out the Aware lecture by Ms Deirdre McCormack, June 2013, ‘The Role of Nutrition and Exercise in Coping with Depression‘ to learn more about life style changes.
Getting information about depression and related mood disorders from reputable ‘self-help’ books can have a positive impact, usually in cases where the depression is mild.
As with any other health condition, it is important that we do not self-diagnose or self-treat where depression or mood disorder is concerned. It is vital to have an appropriately-qualified healthcare professional oversee all aspects of care and treatment. To find a GP in your area, contact the Irish College of General Practitioners on 01 676 3705.
If you would like to do some further reading, please see Aware's Recommended Reading List.