Updated: Apr 26
We all have short-term fluctuations in mood, usually in response to challenges in our day-to-day life. However, if someone is feeling persistently sad for a number of weeks or months, this is likely to be a sign of depression.
Men and women, young and old all experience depression. It's fairly common in the UK, with 1 in 10 people experiencing it at some point during their life. Worldwide, more than 264 million people are affected and The World Health Organisation says that:
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease
There are different types of depression, including post-natal, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but many people experience a more generalised depression. Depression may also be a symptom of, or lead to other mental health problems.
Depression can occur for a variety of reasons, which are often multi-factorial. In general, it is thought that the main drivers of depression can be grouped as:
Genetic - passed on through family genes
Psychological - a response to significant life events such as abuse, illness or emotional trauma
Social - for example being lonely or negatively affected by social media use
Alcohol and some drugs are also 'strong depressants' and some people may try to use these to cope with depression or other problems. Unfortunately, this is likely to lead to a worsening of their condition.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Depression affects people in different ways and may cause a wide variety of symptoms. A GP may make a formal diagnosis, usually focussed on the key symptoms of:
persistent sadness or low mood
loss of interests or pleasure, and
fatigue or low energy
They may then use diagnostic tools that seek to classify the severity of the depression, by identifying associated psychological, physical or social symptoms such as:
poor concentration or indecisiveness
low self-confidence or feelings of worthlessness
poor or increased appetite
suicidal thoughts or acts
agitation or slowing of movements
guilt or self-blame
significant weight loss
Symptoms often come on gradually, so it may be difficult for the person to notice changes in them-self. It is often a family member, friend or colleague who notices a significant change over time and the person only becomes aware when it is pointed out to them.
The NHS takes a stepped approach to treating depression.
If someone has 'mild' depression, they may be recommended to try to exercise regularly, learn more about depression, read self-help books, take on-line courses, or even use clinically validated apps.
However, if someone has 'moderate depression' they may be recommended to engage in a talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling.
If the depression is more severe, the person may be offered antidepressant medication, which may be used in combination with talking therapy. They may also be referred to a specialist mental health team, which may arrange other treatments and may provide a 'crisis' number for use during an acute emergency, such as when someone is feeling suicidal.
There is also emerging evidence to support interventions that seek to minimise social drivers, such as helping the person to moderate their social media use or engage in community activities such as gardening.
Self-help strategies to help minimise the symptoms of depression include:
Having a healthy diet
Taking regular exercise
Talking with others about your feelings
Not using alcohol or drugs, particularly cannabis
Returning to work or minimising stress at work
In summary, depression is a common, worldwide problem that could affect us all at some point during our life.
If someone has a persistent low mood or sadness, they may be depressed. Tactfully pointing this out to them may help them recognise the problem. Encouraging them to see their GP and to engage in self-help strategies should help them to minimise the effect of their depression on their life.
If you'd like to know more about stress and mental health, how to spot the signs, and what you can do to help someone, why not book one of our mental health courses for your group?