Overview of Depression
Depression is the most common type of mood disorder and affects approximately 10% of the UK population. Sadness and grief are normal responses to difficult or traumatic life events such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. However with clinical depression, enduring feelings of sadness persist for weeks or months on end. Depression is a serious clinical condition, which can severely impact your quality of life and prevent you from carrying on with everyday life.
Symptoms of Depression
Have you been feeling low for most of the day, nearly everyday for the past few weeks? Have you lost interest in activities that you used to derive joy from, or sometimes feel that life may no longer be worth living? Have you had trouble falling asleep or have you been oversleeping? Have you been experiencing a loss of appetite or a tendency to overeat? Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself?
If you have been experiencing some of these symptoms for a period of a few weeks, you may be suffering from clinical depression and should seek professional help. It is extremely important to seek support if your symptoms are not improving, if your state has affected your work, relationships, or personal interests, or if you are having any thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
What causes depression?
There is no single cause for depression and it is likely the result of an interaction of several factors including biological, psychological and environmental factors. Having a family member with depression can make you more vulnerable to develop the condition. Experiencing stressful life events such as redundancy or an illness can trigger the onset of depression.
Additional events can also combine to trigger depression, which is often referred to as a ‘downward spiral’. For example, if you lose your job, you may start to feel low about yourself and your future. This can make you feel unmotivated to go out and socialise with friends which can then lead you to feel socially isolated. All of these experiences can accumulate and lead to the onset of depression. Consuming alcohol and drugs as a means to cope with difficult events and feelings can also increase the likelihood of going on a downward spiral that can trigger depression.
Some women are at a particularly high risk for depression following pregnancy. This can be due to a combination of physical and hormonal changes and the new responsibility of taking care of a baby, which can all lead to what is termed ‘postnatal depression’.
Depression can also be triggered during certain seasons of the year. This type of depression is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which normally begins in late autumn or early winter and tends to diminish during spring or summer.
Another form of depression, dysthymia, is a continuous and long-term state of unhappiness. The symptoms are similar to those of depression, but can last for years or even endure throughout life. Although not as severe as major depression, individuals with dysthymia can vary in the intensity of their depression, which can change over time.
There are a variety of treatments available for depression that range from talking therapy, to medication, to lifestyle changes. Depression can range from mild to moderate to severe and treatments can vary accordingly. Treatment for mild forms of depression can include lifestyle changes, such as exercise, or self-help groups. For mild to moderate depression, talking therapy can be effective in reducing the related symptoms and treating the condition.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a common and effective type of talking therapy for the treatment of depression. Typical CBT sessions involve talking through one’s problems with a certified clinician, with the aim of understanding how one’s own thoughts impact one’s negative emotions and behaviours. Patient and clinician then work together to alter these negative thought patterns and behaviours, in order to improve one’s feelings and experiences.
Medications called antidepressants have also been shown to be very effective in treating depression and may be prescribed for moderate or severe depression. These aim to restore an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, which are responsible for many of the observable symptoms of depression. Combination therapy, in which antidepressants are taken along with undergoing a type of talking therapy, can be particularly effective in treating depression. Research finds that this combination approach tends to work better than any stand-alone treatment.
Additionally, self-help strategies such as lifestyle changes can be hugely successful in the treatment of depression. There is evidence that getting regular exercise or reducing the intake of alcohol can reduce symptoms of the condition.