Depression is a common, highly preventable illness that affects millions of people across the world, yet according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, only 28 per cent of sufferers seek help.
What is depression?
There is a common misconception that depression is merely feeling “down” or “sad”, when the reality of the illness is far more severe and wide-ranging. Depression is a persistently low mood often associated with extreme despondency and apathy and can last for weeks, months or even years.
The causes vary dramatically. Often, life-changing events can be a trigger – and not necessarily negative moments. Anything from “bereavement, losing your job or even having a baby, can bring it on”, says the NHS.
Furthermore, people with a family history of depression or anxiety, a similar but distinct condition, are far more likely to suffer it at some point in their lives.
However, the truth of the matter is that depression can strike for no reason at all, so it is always worth being vigilant about your mental wellbeing and that of those near to you.
How do I know if I’ve got it?
Due to its often slow onset, depression can sometimes be hard to spot and can creep up on people almost without them noticing. Doctors advise people to seek help if they feel they’re going through a sustained period of tiredness, low energy or mental fatigue and are unable to enjoy things they previously found pleasurable or interesting.
Other symptoms include a loss of appetite and sex drive, sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt and hopelessness and a loss of self-confidence. If these symptoms begin to interfere with your daily life, it is possible you are suffering from depression and should speak to your GP.
Another key factor that may help you spot depression not only in yourself but in others is depression’s ability to seemingly dictate conscious choices. For example, it can cause sufferers to avoid certain social situations or friends, leading them to retreat from those who may be able to help. Furthermore, depression can cause serious anxiety and seemingly easy decisions can cause great anguish.
If left untreated, depression can sometimes trigger thoughts of suicide and death. If you find yourself frequently thinking about this, the NHS recommends speaking to your doctor or an A&E department urgently.
Is it common?
Yes. For an illness for which so few seek treatment, a staggering one in ten people in the UK suffer from it at some point in their life. It also can hit anyone of any age, race or gender.
Recognising this is an important stepping stone to not feeling so isolated in your feelings, says the Royal College of Psychiatrists, adding that one of the best ways to start recovering is to “remind yourself that many other people have had depression”.
How can I get treatment?
Thankfully, there are a whole host of solutions to the problems faced by those with depression.
For mild sufferers, doctors suggest “watchful waiting” to see whether the illness goes away on its own, along with healthy eating and an increase in physical activity.
If this does not help, or for sufferers of moderate to severe depression, a combination of therapy and medication can be prescribed. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims at changing negative patterns of thinking, is often used in conjunction with antidepressants.
Antidepressants do not always work for everyone and often have consequential side-effects. If you experience any of these, it’s important to speak to your doctor to have your prescription changed.
How can I help a family member or friend?
A friend, family member or even a co-worker may be suffering from depression, yet have not sought help for it.
Although it is understandably tricky to inform someone you believe they may need medical help, there are some signs you may be able to see that they may not.
For instance, if someone has slower speech and movements, or is more fidgety and restless than usual, they may have depression. “Empty fridges and cupboards (which suggest a poor diet)”, “neglected appearance” and “poor hygiene” may also be warning signs, says the NHS.
Talking about depression to someone you suspect may be suffering may seem a daunting task, but with patience and understanding they may seek the help they require.
“Without judging them, gently encourage them to help themselves – for example, by staying physically active, eating a balanced diet and doing things they enjoy,” advises the Depression Alliance.
“Get information about the services available to them, such as psychological therapy services or depression support groups in their area, and stay in touch with them by messaging, texting, phoning or meeting for coffee. People who are depressed can become isolated and may find it difficult to leave their home.”
If the person you’re worried about expresses suicidal feelings, you or they should contact a GP or NHS 111. You can also call the Samaritans free on 116 123 for confidential, 24-hour support.