One in six people will experience depression in their lifetime. In fact, it is now the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Yet despite it being common, many people still struggle with opening up about their mental health to others, including medical professionals – and bottling it up can only make things worse.
“It’s better to ask for help earlier on,” says Lucy Lyus, information manager at mental health charity Mind.
“That way, if needed, you can start receiving the treatment you need to set you on the road to recovery.”
What is it?
Depression is an illness that impacts the brain. The severity of the condition varies between different people, according to the NHS, with some people feeling persistently low in spirit and others feeling like life is no longer worth living.
“Many of us will feel down from time to time – we all have good days and bad days,” says Lucy Lyus from Mind.
“However, if you have been feeling low for a couple of weeks or more without much change in your mood, or the feelings return over and over again, it could be that you have depression.”
Dr Monica Cain, counselling psychologist and cognitive behaviour therapist at Nightingale Hospital, shares the key signs of depression to look out for.
:: Low mood / tearfulness
:: Feeling exhausted and having less energy
:: Finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning
:: Loss of appetite or eating too much unhealthy food
:: Sleep disruption
:: Difficulties in concentrating (for example, reading a book).
People experiencing depression may also: turn down invitations to social events or make excuses not to attend, no longer enjoy activities that they previously enjoyed (ie. sex), drink more alcohol or increase ‘zoning out’ activities such as using the internet, isolate themselves and feel a need to avoid certain situations or people.
They may also have low self esteem, feel guilty or worthless, and have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
If you experience any of these symptoms (or more than one), it’s important to speak to your GP.
“Of course, look at your life circumstances,” says Dr Cain. “There may be good reasons for feeling like this during stressful life events. But also be aware that these feelings can develop over a longer period of time and there doesn’t have to be a trigger situation.”
There are no physical tests for depression, however your GP may examine you and carry out some urine or blood tests to rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms, such as an underactive thyroid.
“The main way your GP will tell if you have depression is by asking you lots of questions about your general health and how the way you’re feeling is affecting you mentally and physically,” explains Lucy Lyus from Mind.
“When you see a doctor they will look for the symptoms that are set out in the ICD-10 guidance (see symptoms above). You do not have to have all of these to be diagnosed with depression, you might have just a few of them.”
While many associate treatment with antidepressants, it doesn’t mean that medication is the only form of help available.
“Different people will find that different treatments help to manage their mental health – whether this is medication or alternatives such as talking therapies or a mixture of both,” says Lyus.
Other forms of treatment that can help combat depression include:
:: Regular exercise
:: Talking treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
:: Combining a psychological treatment with medication
:: Befriending, peer support and volunteering schemes, and art therapy.
“While antidepressants can be very effective for some, they are not the solution for everyone and usually they shouldn’t be used as a first-line treatment for mild depression,” says Lyus.
“What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. Medication should be reviewed regularly with your GP to check it’s working and continues to work.”
For those who are worried about approaching their GP about a mental health issue, it’s worth noting that roughly one in three GP appointments have a mental health component. So it’s certainly not uncommon.
“GPs are usually the first port of call for physical and mental health complaints, so they’re used to dealing with these types of issues,” says Lyus.
Mind has launched a ‘Find The Words’ guide offering advice on how to take the first step and discuss mental health with a GP.