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The difference between stress and depression


Stress and depression are very prevalent in the UK. Studies show that long-term stress affects up to 44% of adults in the UK, whilst clinical depression affects roughly 10%. Stress and depression are two related but different conditions but both can have serious negative consequences on people’s lives if left untreated.

Stress is the reaction when we are under more emotional or mental pressure than we can cope with. Common stressors include: work, health issues, financial challenges, relationship issues, disruption to the norm (e.g. bereavement, moving house etc). We all experience some level of stress, but high-levels of chronic stress can lead to more serious mental health conditions.

Depression is the commonest mood disorder that we see in our clinic at Cognacity. This is more than just unhappiness, it is a condition where mood is consistently low for a minimum of 2 weeks, associated with a range of negative thoughts, worries and biological changes including broken sleep, loss of appetite and poor concentration. It is a serious condition which can prevent employees from carrying on with their everyday lives.

How do the symptoms differ and what are the warning signs?

Signs of chronic stress include: irritability, difficulty concentrating and a sense of feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. This is often accompanied by worrying thoughts and even some physical symptoms such as dizziness or headaches.

Warning signs for depression can be similar. They include loss of appetite or sex drive, physical aches and pains and difficulty sleeping. A hallmark sign is the loss of enjoyment from activities we normally enjoy, such as socialising or a hobby. Feelings that life may no longer be worth living can be characteristic of severe depression.

What can organisations do to support their staff?

The most important step it to create a culture where seeing help is positively encouraged and welcomed. Many organisations provide medical insured support for counselling but unless their people feel safe and secure in seeking help they will not act, Programmes such as Mental Health First Aid Training and Mental Health Champions training are an effective way to hep employees see the importance of taking care of their mental health.

What treatments are available and how do they differ?

  • A number of self-help techniques than can be very effective in alleviating feelings of stress, such as recognising your own self-triggersimproving your time-management skills, and refraining from unhealthy habits like drinking or smoking.
  • Relaxation techniques, by practicing meditation, mindfulness or yoga have also been shown to help people with stress. Getting regular exercise can also be extremely effective in reducing the symptoms of both stress and depression. Self-help groups are also a viable option for those suffering from depression, as talking through one’s feelings can help relieve some of the burdens of the disorder.
  • Psychological therapies such as Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are proven to be effective in the treatment of both. These involves evaluating how an individual perceives difficult situations and understanding how one’s thoughts impact their emotions and behaviours. The individual and therapist then work together to alter these negative thought patterns and behaviours, in order to improve one’s negative feelings and experiences. CBT is particularly useful for individuals to recognise their own trigger points, and identify the positive actions one can take to cope with these. ACT is a very pragmatic and empowering approach to problem solving. Clinicians often adopt a combined approach.
  • For more severe forms of depression, antidepressants can also be an effective treatment. These medications aim to restore an imbalance of chemicals in the brain which are responsible for many of the observable symptoms. Research finds that combination approaches, where antidepressants are taken along with undergoing a type of therapy, can be particularly effective and can work better than any stand-alone treatment. Medication is typically not prescribed to those suffering from stress, unless the individual has also been diagnosed with another condition, such as anxiety or depression. In such cases, medications like antidepressants can be effective in treating these conditions and stress levels may be alleviated as a result.

If you are interested in implementing full accredited Mental Health First Aider Training to train Mental Health First Aider Champions and Advocates in your organisation, please get in touch with Deanna Tutty and her team of fully accredited Mental Health England instructors. We offer group training onsite or virtually and over one or two days.

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