What is depression?
We all feel down from time to time, it’s a normal part of life. But when that low feeling won’t go, and becomes deeper, like a cloud affecting our lives, it’s a sign of depression.
Who can be affected?
Women: Women are more at risk of severe depression than men – according to the NHS one in five women suffer from it, compared to one in ten men.
Men: Recent research for the Samaritans’ ‘We’re in your Corner’ campaign showed increasing risk of depression in middle-aged men. Their findings revealed men account for three quarters of all suicides in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
The elderly: A report ‘Loneliness – the state we’re in’ by Age UK found that older people, especially those who are lonely, are more at risk. One in five older people are affected by loneliness.
What causes depression?
“Episodes of depression can occur out of the blue,” explains psychiatrist Dr Jim Bolton. “Genetic factors may make someone vulnerable to depression as it can run in families.”
“Very often stressful events trigger depression, such as worries about jobs, money or relationships, bereavements, physical illness and alcohol.”
How might risk of depression change during our lifetime?
Depression in the young: “Young to mid-adult life is when most people have their first episode of depression,” says Dr Bolton. “It may be when various stresses begin to stack up in their lives. Jobs, relationships and being a new parent come along then.”
Middle-age depression: As we age, some factors play a bigger part. We’re more likely to have a significant physical illness or suffer loss of family and friends. We’re also more likely to have dementia, increasing risk of depression.
Depression in adolescents: Depression rates in adolescents are lower but still common. “About four to five per cent of 12 to 18 year olds suffer from depression at any point in time,” explains psychiatrist Dr Fareeha Amber Sadiq, who works with young people. Under 12 depression rates are lower, around one to two per cent.
What factors might cause depression in adolescents?
Dr Sadiq explains that a psychiatrist treating a young person for depression, “Would assess if there is a family history of mood disorders or any important life events in their life."
“Family relationships, and how they are managing with their peers, may play a part. Schooling is important – academic pressures or a change of school may affect them,” she says.
Symptoms to watch for:
Signs of depression can be easily missed. It’s important to know what they are so that you can recognize them. Symptoms include:
- Feeling constantly sad or low
- Finding difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
- Being irritable
- Having negative thoughts about yourself
- Thoughts of self-harming
Physical symptoms can sometimes be the first sign of depression, such as aches and pains, sleeping badly, changes in appetite and having no energy. “Children and young people with depression may complain of tummy aches, pains and headaches,” explains Dr Sadiq.
How to help yourself
“Taking exercise is beneficial and often helps with sleep problems,” explains Dr Bolton. “Eating well is important, so try to eat regular, healthy meals.” Social contact in other forms – belonging to a club, even owning a pet – can also help.
Talking to family and friends is helpful, at any age. “Feeling they are being listened to, and talking to people they trust, is important,” says Dr Sadiq.
Visit our Stress Centre for healthy recipes specially designed to boost your mood including: baked spicy eggs and Brazil nut roast.
Where to find help
Whatever your age, if you need help for depression, see your GP. They can refer you to a talking treatment, such as counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These are regarded as the best approach for mild to moderate depression.
If you have been depressed for a while or have severe depression, your GP may prescribe antidepressants.
With children and adolescents (under 18), your GP will refer them to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, who provide a range of support including talking treatments and, if required, medication.
If you – or someone close to you – are struggling with depression, there is help available. Know what the symptoms are and how you can help yourself. Talk to friends and family, and to your GP – you don’t have to cope with depression alone.
For more information on how to manage stress, visit our Stress Centre and read our articles or post any questions you have for one of our medical experts online.
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