What is depression?

Depression is a prolonged and persistent negative mood which can colour and interfere with many aspects of life. It is characterised by feelings of sadness, disappointment, loneliness, worthlessness, excessive guilt, self-doubt and hopelessness.

Everyone experiences feelings of depression at one time or another. Feeling "down" or "sad" is a normal part of being human. These feelings commonly follow loss or disappointment, and usually pass within a few hours or days.

Depression that becomes intense, that lasts for extended periods of time and interferes with day-to-day functioning is of a more serious nature. Help, support and treatment for depression can be found by seeing a professional such as a counsellor or a doctor.

What causes people to be depressed?

Often there are many interrelated factors associated with depression such as:

  • Significant loss
  • Loss of control over the environment, the belief that nothing can be done to change unfortunate events in life
  • Life changes (e.g. childbirth, menopause, redundancy)
  • Disappointment
  • Perceived failure
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Negative thinking which gradually becomes self-defeating
  • Biochemical factors (some illnesses, infections and drugs can create chemical imbalances that play a significant role in depression).

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of emotional responsiveness
  • Helplessness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Crying spells
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Worrying
  • Neglect of responsibilities
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance
  • Loss of motivation
  • Frequent self-criticism
  • Self-blame
  • Pessimism
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Indecisiveness and confusion
  • Tendency to believe others see you in a negative light
  • Thoughts of death and suicide

What helps?

Identify connections

Being honest with yourself and observing changes in mood and feeling as they occur may help you to identify some of the sources of the feelings of depression.

Talk about problems

Discussing problems and feelings with those involved, or an understanding friend or a health professional (counsellor, psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or doctor) can sometimes bring about a resolution before a critical stage of depression is reached.

Exercise regularly

Exercising burns up tension, helps you relax, may improve sleep patterns and leads to the release of endorphins that lift your mood.

Try to be aware of your negative thoughts, and replace them with positive ones

Thinking about your own unique strengths, characteristics and positive accomplishments can enhance well-being.

Identify times when you feel less depressed

Working out what it is that you do when you feel less depressed, can help you identify ways of lifting your depression.

Seek professional help

Treating depression is possible. Counsellors, doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists are trained to assist the individual to find ways to deal with, and overcome, depression.

Consider anti-depressant medication

Taking a prescribed anti-depressant medication is appropriate in some cases. It helps by lessening feelings of depression and enables you to feel more able to tackle your problems. There are different types of anti-depressants. They should be taken under medical supervision. Consult the Health Service or your doctor.

Seek professional help when:

  • Pain and problems outweigh pleasure
  • The severity and persistence of symptoms impair day to day functioning
  • The pain seems too much and you cannot see a way out.

Helping a friend with depression

Severely depressed individuals can be very withdrawn, lethargic, self-ruminating and possibly suicidal. A concerned friend can provide valuable and possibly life saving support. Talking candidly with the individual regarding your concern for his or her well-being will often help bring the problems out into the open.

As you talk:

  • Share your concern and willingness to help
  • Be supportive and patient
  • Avoid cheering up the person
  • Avoid saying "I know how you feel".

If you believe the person to be suicidal, or you hold serious concerns for his/her well-being, urge the person to seek professional help. If the individual resists, contact a counsellor yourself so you can discuss how best to handle the situation.


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