What is depression?
Every one of us knows what it feels like
to be 'down in the dumps' or sad. We may even refer to ourselves as 'feeling
However depression is a very serious
condition which can affect a person both mentally and physically and seriously
affect quality of life.
When a person feels down or sad, these
feelings usually pass relatively quickly. However depression is when these
feelings go on for at least a few weeks, affecting all parts of the person's
life. It is estimated that around one in ten people in Ireland will have
depression at some stage in their life.
Depressed people cannot 'snap out of this
condition' or 'pull themselves together'. They need professional help.
Therefore if either you or somebody you knows is showing signs of depression,
talk to your doctor. Do not suffer depression in silence hoping it will just go
away on its own.
Depression is a treatable condition.
What are the symptoms of depression?
Depression can be associated with both
psychological and physical symptoms. These may include any of the following:
- Continuous low mood
- Emotional numbness
- Lack or loss of interest in things you
used to enjoy
- Lack of confidence/low self-esteem
- Feeling irritable or angry
- Concentration and memory problems
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Lack of motivation
- Thoughts of suicide, self-harming or
- Increase or decrease in appetite/weight
- Loss of interest in sex
- Sleeping problems (this can include too
much sleep or having trouble getting to sleep)
- Period irregularities
- Recurrent headaches that don't go away
How can I tell the difference between just
being down and being depressed?
Everybody feels down at some stage,
however low moods are thought of as depression if they persist for a long time
rather than just a few days, and become so overpowering that it is making life
difficult to cope with.
If you have a number of the symptoms of depression
(listed above), which have lasted for two weeks or more, you should consult
Your doctor can assess whether you need
more help, or can reassure you that the feelings you are having will pass.
What causes depression?
In some cases, there is an obvious reason
for a person to become depressed. They may have experienced some sort of
traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, ending of a relationship or
the loss of a job. These are known as ‘environmental factors’, and this type of
depression is sometimes called ‘reactive’ depression – as the depression
results as a direct reaction to an event.
However sometimes there is no obvious
cause. In these cases, depression may have a biological or genetic basis: e.g.,
it may be triggered by changes in hormone levels, or the person may have
inherited a tendency to develop depression.
Often, depression may be due to a
combination of psychological, biological, genetic and environmental factors.
Whatever the cause, it has been found that people with depression have an imbalance of certain chemicals in their brain, which affect mood.
There are a number of factors that are
thought to increase a person’s risk of developing depression. These include:
- Gender: Women are twice as likely to be
diagnosed as depressed than men.
- Genes: Depression can run in families.
This does not mean if a close family member has depression, you will definitely
get it too. However if depression runs in your family, you should be aware of
- Personality: There is no one type of
personality that makes a person more prone to depression than others. However
people who tend to be rigid, anxious, obsessive or who hide their feelings may
be more at risk than others.
- Family environment: There are a number of
factors which may lead to depression within the family environment, for
example, the death of a parent or sibling or if there is/was sexual abuse in
- Medical conditions: Various medical
conditions can be associated with depression, particularly those where a person
may lose their independence and become dependant on others for their well-being
– e.g., stroke, cancer and dementia.
- Drugs: Alcohol or drug abuse can lead to
depression. Use of certain medications can also be associated with depression.
It is important to note that having any of
these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will develop depression –
it may simply increase your risk.
Is there more than one type of depression?
Yes. There are many different types of
depression. These include:
- Mild depression: This form of depression
is often triggered by a specific event, such as the loss of a job. Symptoms
include feeling low and anxious. Sometimes a change in lifestyle is all that is
required to lift this kind of depression.
- Severe depression: This could potentially
be a life-threatening illness. A person with severe depression experiences
intense symptoms, and the illness interferes significantly with their daily
life. It is important that medical help is sought.
- Bipolar depression: This is also known as
manic-depression or manic-depressive illness. A person with this condition
experiences sustained high moods alternating with periods of sustained low
moods. High moods can see the person feeling elated and needing less sleep or
food than usual. Low moods can range from mild to severe depression.
- Dysthymia: This is a mild form depression,
but is more persistent. The condition may come and go, but if it has gone on
for more than two months in a two-year time span, dysthymia may be diagnosed.
One of the main symptoms is low self-esteem. People with dysthymia are at
increased risk of developing full depression.
- Postnatal depression: This is depression
which arises after a woman has a baby. It can occur straight after the birth or
in some cases, it doesn't develop until up to a year later. Medical treatment
is recommended, however many women do not seek help as they feel that this is
something they must endure or they put it down to tiredness or adjustment.
How is depression treated?
If you suspect you may be suffering from
depression, seek help from your doctor. Depression is treatable and yet many
people put up with symptoms that impact on their quality of life for years on
There are a number of treatment options available.
Psychological or ‘talk’ therapy, such as counselling
or cognitive behavioural therapy has been found to be very effective in people
with mild to moderate depression, and can also be an important part of
treatment for severe depression. Therapy may be provided by psychologists, psychotherapists
or counsellors. It can help you to develop a more positive way of thinking and
to find ways of dealing with your problems.
Psychological therapy can also be
particularly useful in children and adolescents, for whom medical treatment may
not always be appropriate.
If you have severe depression, or mild
depression that hasn’t improved with counselling, your doctor may recommend
taking a course of antidepressants. Antidepressant drugs work to restore the imbalance
of certain chemicals in the brain, which occurs in depression.
There are many different types
of antidepressant drugs, and there have been major improvements over the past 20
years, with newer classes of drugs proving to be very effective with less side
effects than the older drugs. However, they take some time to work so make sure
that you complete the courses prescribed for you.
Complementary medicines have also become
increasingly popular in recent years. It is important that you inform your
doctor of any complementary treatment you are receiving. Examples may include
acupuncture and homeopathy.
Remember that depression is a treatable
What else can I do to manage my depression?
There are many lifestyle changes you can
make to help you cope with your depression and which may prevent another
episode of depression from occurring.
- If your depression is being triggered by
stress or pressure, for example in your job, stress management may help. This
can include relaxation exercises, massage and aromatherapy.
- Try to get regular exercise and eat a
well-balanced diet. This will help to maintain good health and improve overall wellbeing.
- Try to avoid smoking, alcohol and illegal
drugs – such substances can actually worsen your depression.
- Make sure you get enough rest and maintain
a regular sleeping pattern.
- Join a support group – meeting people and
sharing your feelings with those who have shared similar experiences can often help.
In Ireland, the organisation Aware runs support groups around the country. See www.aware.ie. They also have a helpline at 1890
What should I do if somebody close to me seems
to be depressed?
This can be a particularly difficult
situation because as part of their depression, the person you wish to help may
continually withdraw from you.
Try to be as sympathetic as possible. If
the person wants to talk, listen. Try not to be impatient.
Strongly encourage them to seek help from
their GP or ask them if they would like you to arrange an appointment on their
behalf. If they are not keen on seeing a GP, suggest that they look elsewhere —
perhaps to a counselling service. Remind them that depression can be
If at any stage, the person talks about or
hints at suicide, medical advice should be sought immediately. Even if a child
mentions suicide, take this very seriously. If they don't want to talk to a
doctor, give them the phone number of somebody like the Samaritans.
If the person is in immediate danger of
hurting themselves, phone 999 immediately. Do not leave the person on their
The irishhealth.com Depression clinic offers comprehensive information on depression, from symptoms and diagnosis to