Depression - About
In this section you will find information about:
What is depression?
Everyone has ups and downs. Sometimes you might feel a bit low, for lots of different reasons. People may say that they are feeling depressed when they are feeling down, but this does not always mean that they have depression.
epression is a long lasting low mood disorder. It affects your ability to do everyday things, feel pleasure or take interest in activities.
- a mental illness that is recognised around the world,
- common - it affects about one in ten of us,
- something that anyone can get, and
Depression is not:
- something you can 'snap out of’,
- a sign of weakness,
- something that everyone experiences, or
- something that lasts forever as one episode.
Doctors might describe depression as 'mild', 'moderate' or 'severe'. Your doctor may offer you different treatments depending on how they describe it.
How common is depression?
Depression can affect people of any age, including children. It is one of the most common mental illnesses. The number of people who have depression may be higher than this because not everyone with depression goes to their GP.
What are the symptoms of depression and how is it diagnosed?
The NHS recommends that you should see your GP if you experience the symptoms of depression for most of the day and every day for over 2 weeks.
Doctors make decisions about diagnosis based on guidelines. One guideline used by NHS doctors is the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10).
When you see a doctor they will look for the symptoms that are set out in the ICD-10 guidance. You do not have to have all of these to be diagnosed with depression. You might have just a few of them.
The symptoms of depression are:
- low mood, feeling sad, irritable or angry,
- having less energy to do certain things,
- losing interest or enjoyment in activities you used to enjoy,
- loss of concentration,
- becoming tired more easily,
- disturbed sleep and losing your appetite,
- feeling less good about yourself (loss of self-confidence), or
- feeling guilty or worthless.
You may also find that with low mood you:
- feel less pleasure from things,
- feel more agitated,
- lose interest in sex,
- find your thoughts and movements slow down, and
- have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Your doctor should also ask about any possible causes of depression. They may also do some tests to check if you have any physical problems which might cause symptoms of depression such as an underactive thyroid.
What are the different types of depression?
You might have heard a number of terms used to describe depression. In this section, we explain what some of these terms mean.
Clinical depression is a common term, but it is not a formal diagnosis. People sometimes say ‘clinical diagnosis’ to just mean they have been diagnosed by a doctor.
Your doctor might say that you are going through a 'depressive episode'. This is the formal name that doctors give depression when they make a diagnosis. They may say that you are going through a 'mild', 'moderate' or 'severe' episode.
Recurrent depressive disorder
If you have had repeated episodes of depression, your doctor might say that you have recurrent depressive disorder. They may say that your current episode is 'mild', 'moderate' or 'severe'.
If your doctor thinks that your episode of depression was caused by particular stressful events in your life, they may say that it is reactive. For example, divorce, job or money worries. This is sometimes separated from an adjustment disorder, where you may struggle with some symptoms of
depression because of adapting to a major change in your life. Such as separation from people, retirement or migrating to a new area.
Severe depressive episode with psychotic symptoms
If you are going through a severe episode of depression, you may get hallucinations or delusions. A hallucination means you might hear, see, smell, taste or feel things that aren’t real. A delusion means that you might believe things that don’t match reality. These symptoms are called
Your doctor might diagnose you with dysthymia if you have felt low for several years, but the symptoms are not severe enough, or the episodes are not long enough for a doctor to diagnose recurrent depressive disorder.
Your doctor might diagnose cyclothymia if you struggle with persistently unstable moods. You might have several periods of depression and periods of mild elation. These periods of depression or elation are not ession or bipolarfers to episodes of depression after childbirth. It is a common illness which affects more than 1 in 10 women within 1 year of having a baby. You may get symptoms that are similar to those in other types of depression.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
This type of depression affects you at the same time of year, usually in the winter. The symptoms are similar to depression, but some people find they sleep more rather than less, and crave arbohydrates like chocolate, cakes and bread.
Manic depression is the old name for bipolar disorder. It is a different illness to depression. People with this illness have highs (mania) and lows (depression).
You can find more information about ‘Bipolar Disorder’ here.
What causes depression?
There is no single cause of depression. Different things may cause depression for different people. This section looks at some of the things that might cause depression, or depressive symptoms.
Some studies suggest that your genetics can play a part in developing depression. For example, one study found that particular genes may play a key role in developing recurrent depression. However, studies into the genetics of depression are at an early stage.
Your background and current situation
Researchers have also looked at whether having parents or other family members with depression can increase your chances of developing the condition. For example, some studies have looked into the effects having a mother with postpartum depression can have on children as they grow up.
Stressful events, such as problems at home or work, a relationship ending or financial issues may also make it more likely you will get depression.
Hormones and chemicals
Changes in your hormones and chemicals in your body may cause depressive symptoms.
For example, at some point many women might find their mood is affected in the weeks before their period, called pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). Some women may struggle with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) which has a lot of psychological symptoms similar to depression.
Having problems with your thyroid or having low levels of Vitamin B12 may also be linked to feeling symptoms of depression.
Some studies have shown that not exercising, being under or overweight and having fewer social relationships can increase the risk of experiencing depressive symptoms.
Drugs and alcohol
Both legal and illegal drugs might affect your mental health. If you take prescribed medications, it is important to make sure you take them in the way your doctor suggests.
Some people will drink alcohol because it feels like it can relieve anxiety or depression. However, the evidence suggests that if you drink regularly or misuse alcohol you are at a greater risk of developing depression.
You can find more information about ‘Drugs, alcohol and mental health’ here.
Depression can come with other mental or physical health conditions such as such as diabetes or cancer. These conditions can make you feel low or may be a trigger for depression.
Some people with brain injuries and dementia may also have changes in their moods.
You can find more information on looking after your physical health in our ‘Good health guide’ here.
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