What is Depression?
Let’s start by defining depression. When things aren’t going how you planned them or something bad happens, its normal to feel down and upset about it. Usually, you’ll feel down for a few days. However, Depression is different. Feelings of sadness and upset last longer than just a few days and make it difficult to cope with everyday life. Depression is common – 1 in 6 people will experience depression at some point in their lives! Depression varies from mild to severe. Mild depression can cause a person to feel low, sad or fed up for a while. The person may not enjoy life and may find things harder. Eventually, these feelings lift. Severe depression makes a person feel very down and unable to cope with normal activities. It lasts longer than mild depression. The person may feel hopeless and think of suicide.
Are you depressed?
Depression affects mood, thoughts and physical feelings. You may experience some of the following symptoms:
- feeling low and fed up or numb and empty most of the time
- lacking confidence and feeling anxious
- being irritable, over-sensitive and tearful
- feeling worthless
- finding it hard to enjoy anything – nothing seems fun
- withdrawing from friends and feeling you can’t face going out
- finding it hard to concentrate, to remember things and to make decisions
- feeling guilty and thinking you are to blame for things that go wrong
- seeing everything negatively and expecting the worst
- finding it hard to be motivated and thinking ‘there’s no point in doing things’
- thinking you would be better off dead, making suicide plans
- either being very restless or unusually slowed-down
- feeling tired all the time and lacking energy
- changes in sleeping: difficulty in getting to sleep; waking up early; sleeping much more than usual
- changes in eating: loss of appetite or eating more than usual (‘comfort eating’)
- weight gain or weight loss
- loss of interest in sex
|1: Start by accepting that you are depressed and it’s not your fault. Being angry or critical with yourself will only make things worse. Telling yourself to ‘Pull yourself together’ or ‘Snap out of it’ won’t help. The key to overcoming depression is to break the ‘negative cycle’ of thinking where you become depressed or anxious about being depressed. If you find this happening, try to stop the negative thoughts. Some people shout ‘Stop!’ in their heads, or imagine traffic lights on red. Try to give yourself more encouraging messages: ‘It’s not my fault I feel like this. I will get better – it takes time.’|
|2: Challenge your negative expectations. Depression makes you interpret events in the worst possible light: ‘My housemate didn’t speak to me when he came home – he’s annoyed with me’. Try to think of alternative explanations: ‘Perhaps he’s had a bad day… after all, he was quite friendly this morning.’ ‘Maybe he’s still hungover from last night.’ Then think which of the explanations is most likely.|
|3: Set yourself small and realistic challenges. Reward yourself for your effort. If you don’t feel you’ve achieved much, remember that you are one stage further on than when you started. When you feel ready, work for a little longer each day.|
|4: Try to establish a routine for meals, bedtime etc and stick to it, even if you don’t feel hungry or sleepy. It’s important to eat healthily so that your body can fight infections and doesn’t become run down. Include something you like doing as part of your routine, even if you don’t have much enthusiasm at first.|
|5: Exercise, including gentle walking, can help to lift your mood. Again, set realistic goals: walking may feel more manageable than going to the gym.|
|6: Learn and practise relaxation techniques which can help reduce tension.|
|7: Talk to people. Some of your friends may be worried about you and want to help. If going out feels too difficult, try to arrange to meet for a coffee or talk to someone on the phone. Some people find it helpful to talk to other people who have experienced depression, eg on an internet chatline.|
|8: Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs such as cannabis – they are likely to make you feel worse. Alcohol lowers your mood and recreational drugs will intensify your depression. Some people find herbal remedies helpful, but they can have side-effects. Seek advice before you take any non-prescribed medication.
And remember – Breathe, take life one day at a time!