Depression is a common condition that will affect one in three people at some time in their life. It is a complicated illness with many different symptoms and causes.
Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns and overwhelming feelings of despair are often the first signs of depression.
Many sufferers become emotionally detached from those around them and withdraw into a world of their own. Some describe it like being in a prison with no windows or doors, which can alienate friends and relatives, increasing the isolation.
- Changes in sleeping patterns; broken nights or over-sleeping
- Changes in eating patterns: loss of appetite or overeating
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Headaches, stomach upsets or chronic pain
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide
There is no one cause of depression – it is often an interaction of genetic factors, body chemistry and life events. It spans the spectrum of negative states from feeling low to severe or clinical depression.
Depression results in chemical imbalances in the neurotransmitters in the brain – whether this is the cause or result of the illness is less certain. Mid-life is the most common time for depression to strike, but it can affect all age groups.
For many people it follows some kind of loss; the death of a loved one, redundancy, divorce, illness or else it follows a period of stress. This is sometimes called reactive depression. Grief and sadness are natural responses to such loss but depression is an illness and has major differences which can be difficult to spot.
Others have a tendency to become depressed from time to time for no apparent reason. This is sometimes described as endogenous depression which appears to arise from changes, often hormonal, inside the person himself.
If a low mood has lasted for more than two weeks or is starting to interfere with your life it may be time to seek help. The shame that has been attached to mental illness often increases the distress and isolation of depression.
The earlier help is sought for depression the better – many of the symptoms are similar to other illnesses. Organisations and self-help groups can help with advice.
Counselling is effective in treating mild to moderate depression, and is often combined with medication in more severe cases, which is sometimes known as clinical depression.
Understanding depression and its triggers it can be helpful for sufferers trying to manage the condition. Talking to friends and family or specialist agencies can help. Counselling can help address low self-esteem, or relationship issues or persistent negative thinking.