Depression is one of the most common mental health problems affecting people of all ages and from all walks of life but we are often unaware of how prevalent it is because unlike a physical illness or a physical disability there are no outward signs. Also many people with depression hide away or put on a brave face and pretend to the outside world that they are fine.
In 2018 the World Health Organisation noted that globally 300 million people are suffering from depression. The Mental Health Foundation have found depression to be the "predominant mental health problem world wide, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder".
It is a condition that needs to be taken very seriously because at its worst, it can lead to suicide.
We all experience periods when we feel sad and unhappy, especially after negative life events such as being made redundant, or the break up of a relationship. But when such feelings remain for weeks or come for no apparent reason, you may be suffering from depression.
The symptoms vary considerably from person to person but include loss of energy, changes in sleep patterns, feelings of worthlessness, listlessness, low mood, lack in interest in things that used to be enjoyable, inability to concentrate, avoidance of family and friends, changes in appetite, desire to self harm, lack of or changes in sex drive, listlessness, hyper-activity, inability to stop crying, feeling anxious, excessive use of drugs or alcohol, physical aches and pains and feelings of suicide. This list is not exhaustive.
Causes of Depression
The causes of depression are complex and can be difficult to identify. There are a number of possible contributory factors including stressful life events, specific life events such as giving birth and menopause which involve hormonal and bodily changes, personality factors in that some people may have a greater predisposition to depression than others, use of drugs and alcohol, lack of sleep, underlying unresolved issues such as early trauma and abuse, social, cultural and environmental factors including loneliness and isolation and certain physical conditions can lead to depression. The list is not exhaustive and often it will be a combination of different factors that lead to depression and it can be difficult to identify which ones are relevant.
However, the most important thing is to seek help for depression if you feel in its grip.
Helping someone with depression
People suffering from depression often feel very guilty for how they feel, saying things like, "I have no right to feel like this", "My life is good, why can't I get over this?" But depression does not always come for a reason, it can just start. However, treatment is available and although the sufferer will not be able to just "snap out of it", it can be treated.
Accept that there is a limit to what you can do if a person you care about is depressed, it is hard to see those we love suffer, but getting through a period of depression takes time, you cannot fix them by talking them out of it. Encourage them to seek professional help , listen to them without trying to make things better by telling them what to do, do not take it personally if they seem to turn away from you or reject you, have patience with them.
More importantly it can be very difficult to support someone who is clinically depressed, if you are finding it hard, seek professional support for yourself too.
Treatment for Depression
The best treatment for depression will vary according to the needs of the sufferer and one size certainly does not fit all. It may well be that the term depression refers to a wide variety of different underlying conditions, situations, experiences and depression is a symptom rather than a condition in itself. Therefore the best treatment for one individual may not work for others.
However, in many cases it is talking therapies that can make a real difference. While someone suffering from depression may have family and friends willing to listen and support, this is not always the case, but also many people prefer to speak to someone who is objective, who they do not have to worry about upsetting, and who they can leave behind, together with their depression once they have recovered. Having a professional psychotherapist to support them through this difficult period in their life can make a real difference.
Medication can also help and again individuals will differ considerably in their response to this and it needs to be carefully monitored by medical professionals. Usually medication works best in tandem with talking therapies. Medication can take the edge off the severity of the depression and give the sufferer the ability to face and address their feelings and low moods.
If you are suffering from depression, the most important thing to do is to seek help, it does not last for ever, you can get past it.