If you have depression, you will experience a low mood for a long period of time. Unlike the occasional bout of feeling sad, it will affect your daily life and make it hard for you to find enjoyment in day-to-day activities. Some days you may find it impossible to get out of bed, while other days you may feel more able to hide it and carry out normal daily tasks.
Living with depression can be difficult, not only for sufferers, but also for those around them. Despite this, many will wait a long time before seeking help. This is especially true if they fear it will make them feel rejected, ridiculed or deprived of a sense of control.
This page will explore why seeking help early is key, what the symptoms of depression are and how it can develop. We will also look into the different forms of counselling for depression.
Do I have depression?
For many people, an obstacle stopping them from seeking help is understanding whether or not they actually have depression. Before we go into the symptoms of depression, it’s important to point out that if you are struggling with your emotions and feel unable to cope – you may benefit from seeking support. You are worthy of help, no matter how trivial you may perceive your problems to be.
Speaking to a professional, whether that’s your GP or a counsellor, can help you understand what you need. This can range from self-help tips and breathing exercises, to a course of psychotherapy and medication. Everyone is different and will need differing levels of support.
How does it feel?
If you have depression, you are likely to have at least five of the following depression symptoms:
You may feel:
- like life isn’t worth living
- constantly anxious, tearful and worried
- like you can’t concentrate
- irritable and intolerant of others
- not getting enough enjoyment out of life
- have a lack of self-esteem
- excessive and inappropriate guilt
- you have no motivation or interest in things you used to enjoy
You may experience:
- changes in sleeping patterns – broken nights or oversleeping
- changes in eating patterns – loss of appetite or overeating
- tiredness and a loss of energy
- persistent headaches and/or stomach upsets
- chronic pain
- a slower speaking pattern than usual
- loss of libido
- changes to your menstrual cycle
You may also:
- neglect hobbies and interests
- isolate yourself from friends and family
- take part in fewer social activities
- notice your productivity falling at work
You may not notice if you have developed depression, especially if it has been a gradual process over a number of weeks or months. Sometimes it takes a friend, a family member or a partner to point out that you may have a problem.
Why do we become depressed?
Sometimes it’s instantly apparent what the cause is, but other times there isn’t an obvious reason why you feel so down. It could be that you’ve lost something or someone, or it could stem from disappointment or frustration. Usually there will be more than one reason why you suffer from depression, and these reasons differ from person to person.
Common reasons behind the development of depression include:
Distressing life events
Distressing life events can take their toll on us. Divorce, family problems or losing a job are all momentous in our lives that can alter our mood.
Losing someone that is close to you, even from natural causes, can increase the risk. It’s not always just the loss that causes it, it’s the way we deal with it. If you don’t grieve or express your feelings properly, they can build up and contribute towards depression.
Your childhood experiences can affect you in adult life. If you were physically or emotionally abused, or not taught to cope with troubles that enter your life, it could lead you to having problems as you grow up.
‘Frozen anger’ is a term that’s closely related to depression. You may have gone through something that caused you to become angry, but at the time you couldn’t express your feelings properly. This type of anger becomes suppressed; it can then build up and become a cause of depression.
Feeling like you’re alone, stressed, physically exhausted and/or have no one to talk to can all contribute to the condition.
Although social media itself doesn’t cause depression, constantly comparing your life to other peoples’ has been heavily linked.
Some types of physical illness can alter how the brain works and cause depression. Such conditions include:
- hormonal problems, e.g. an underactive thyroid
- viral infections, e.g. glandular fever or flu (prevalent in younger people)
- painful or lasting illnesses, e.g. arthritis
- life-threatening conditions, e.g. heart disease and cancer
Heavy drinking on a regular basis can make you more susceptible to developing depression.
Types of depression
There are several different ‘types’ of depression, including:
Mild depression – When depression symptoms have only a limited impact on daily life. Generally, sufferers of mild depression will experience a persistent low mood and spirit. They may find it difficult to motivate themselves to do things they normally enjoy.
Major (clinical) depression – A more severe form that can lead to hospital admission. Symptoms will be more prominent and interfere with daily life. They can affect eating habits, sleeping, and other day-to-day activities. Some sufferers may feel suicidal and that life is no longer worth living.
Bipolar disorder – A form of manic depression characterised by extreme highs and lows. For example when a period of hyperactivity where sufferers are excited and planning overambitious tasks is followed by a period of severe depression.
Postnatal depression – A condition that can develop in women between two weeks and two years after childbirth.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – A form that’s closely related to the length of days. It typically occurs in the autumn and winter months when the days are shorter. Symptoms tend to alleviate when the days get brighter and longer.
When is it time to seek help for depression?
If you experience depression symptoms for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.
If your feelings start affecting many parts of your life, this is a sign you may need professional support.
The parts of your life that depression can have a negative impact on include, but are not limited to:
- overall sense of happiness and enjoyment
Thoughts of suicide and self-harm are also warning signs that your condition is getting worse. If you experience these, you should look to seek professional support to beat depression.
For many, being treated for depression can seem an impossible task, but the sooner help is sought the better. In some cases, the illness can disappear without treatment. This is not always the case however and there is a danger that living with the condition will put significant emotional and physical strain on your health and well-being. Therefore, many people with depression opt for treatment.
In the initial stages, your GP will look to diagnose the condition by conducting tests to rule out other health problems such as an underactive thyroid. They will then ask various questions about your general health and how your feelings are affecting your mental and physical well-being. From here, the appropriate treatment options will be pursued. These will depend on the nature of the depression and your personal circumstances.
How to beat depression with talking therapies
Depression is a treatable condition, even in its most severe of form. A range of treatment options should be provided. The two most common forms offered are counselling for depression and medication. These are often used in combination – particularly in more severe cases.
Counselling for depression
The following types of counselling and psychotherapy have been proven effective in treating depression:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
According to guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), cognitive behavioural therapy is among the recommended therapies for treating depression. This therapy is based on the premise that the way we behave and think affects the way we feel. People with depression tend to have self-defeating thoughts that can lead to negative behaviour. CBT aims to help them identify and address these negative thoughts.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
This type of talking therapy is specifically designed to help those who suffer from recurring depression.Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy combines elements of cognitive therapy and mindfulness techniques (breathing exercises and meditation) to help break negative thought patterns.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
Interpersonal therapy focuses on how our mental health affects our relationships and how our relationships affect us. The thinking behind it is that psychological symptoms, such as depression, are typically a response to a difficulty in our communication with others. The symptoms gained from this can also cause the communication to deteriorate, thus causing a cycle. IPT works best with those who have identifiable problems.
Psychodynamic therapy aims to find out how a person’s unconscious thoughts affect their behaviour. This type of therapy can help individuals understand and unravel their deep-rooted feelings and experiences.
Although the term ‘group therapy’ can be applied to many talking therapies, it’s mainly used with those that work best within a group dynamic. One of the main benefits of this type of therapy is the support network of peers that are going through the same sort of issues. It aims to encourage you to share your experiences and work on understanding yourself better.
Art therapy uses artistic mediums to help individuals explore their emotions in a new way. It uses art as a form of communication – this is especially good for those who find it difficult to verbalise their feelings.
Alongside counselling, medication may be prescribed by GPs to help sufferers who are experiencing moderate to severe depression. Antidepressants can help to ease common depression symptoms such as poor sleep, low mood, and poor concentration. They can help sufferers to function better and can even increase the ability to deal with difficult situations if they arise. Such medication however is not effective for everybody and does not tackle the root cause. This is why counselling for depression is recommended in combination with medical intervention.