Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Understanding depression

Understanding depressionDepression is a serious illness. It can affect anyone, at any age, whatever their situation in life. The good news is that there is help available...

What is depression?

Depression takes different forms, and affects people in different ways. Depression isn't just ‘feeling unhappy’ for a few days. It may be ‘feeling unhappy’ or even ‘feeling nothing at all’ for weeks, months or even years.  Depressed people may have moments when they feel happy, or they may not. One form of depression is no more legitimate or serious than another. People with bipolar disorder, for instance, will have periods of depression as well as periods when they feel extremely high and overactive.

But doesn’t everyone get depressed?

Everyone feels low at some point. Mood changes in responses to life’s ups and downs are normal. Depression, however, is far more complex than simply feeling ‘under the weather’. It is a debilitating illness that can affect people’s ability to focus, feel - or indeed, do anything at all.

When you’re depressed you can feel isolated and alone. It’s easy to believe that nobody else has ever experienced what you’re feeling. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that nearly 80,000 children and other young people in the UK suffer from serious depression. And that’s just young people! You’re not alone, and there is help available.

What causes depression?

Experts still don’t quite know what causes depression. Most will agree that it can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. For instance, you are more likely to develop depression if you have a family history of depression. But depression can also be triggered by difficult or stressful events, other illnesses, and even alcohol consumption. A counsellor or therapist might be able to help you to get to the root of what’s causing your depression.  However, it's important to remember that even if you can’t identity a cause behind your depression, your feelings are still valid and worthy of treatment.

Do I have depression?

Symptoms of depression can include feelings of low self-worth, anxiety, tearfulness, irritability and alienation. Depression can also cause a loss of interest in work and other activities, as many people lose their motivation and concentration. People experiencing depression may stop taking care of themselves – by no longer washing or eating well, for instance. By contrast, some ‘high-functioning depressives’ may be able to act as they usually would whilst suffering in silence. Depressed people may exhibit reckless behavior and attempt self-harm or suicide, which is yet another reason why it’s so important to seek help as soon as possible.

Both the NHS and Mind provide a more comprehensive list of symptoms of depression. You may find it helpful to take an automated and confidential questionnaire on the NHS website.

 If you're worried that you might have depression, make an appointment your GP immediately. Don't put off getting help because you don’t think you are ‘sick enough’ or the way you feel doesn't quite match up with what you’d expect. You might feel like you should be able to simply 'pull yourself together', particularly if well-meaning friends or family tell you to! But it were that easy, you’d do it. Depression is a real illness and requires real treatment.

How can it be treated?

Treating depression can be a daunting process. Luckily, you don’t have to do it on your own. Most people can make a full recovery if they get the right treatment and support. Those who don’t make a full recovery often find that treatment still greatly improves their quality of life.

A GP will be able to assess your symptoms and start you on the path to treatment. This may involve medication, talking therapy (such as counselling or CBT) or a combination of both. If you don’t want to take medication, tell your GP. A good GP will discuss your options with you to help you find a treatment you’re comfortable with.

Some studies suggest that regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression, but there’s no shame in taking either, or both, routes, In addition to medication and talking therapy, people with depression (and the general population!) can also benefit from lifestyle changes such as eating more healthily and drinking less alcohol.

Some people find it difficult to talk to somebody face to face about their depression. Before approaching your GP, you might find it helpful to call a helpline anonymously to talk to someone first. This could give you the confidence to tell someone in person. Remember, calling a helpline is no substitute for speaking to your GP. Don’t forget that anything you tell a GP, counsellor or therapist is confidential unless they believe you to be a risk to yourself or others. And If you don’t find your GP, counsellor or therapist helpful, find a new one!

Costs of treatment

  • Medication

You may be able to get free prescriptions for your antidepressant medication on the NHS.

  • Talking therapy

Your GP should be able to refer you for free talking therapy. Don’t be afraid to ask your GP about services available in your area if they don’t immediately suggest it. Some areas have long waiting lists for talking therapy, so it’s worth asking at your appointment how long your wait time is likely to be. If it’s longer than you’re able to wait, don’t despair. You can find a therapist privately. Many organisations also offer free or low-cost talking therapies outside of the NHS.

Related links

Related helplines

If you feel you are at risk of hurting yourself or others call 999 immediately.