By Dr. Reshad Malik
'Depressed' is a term increasingly used to describe feeling 'a bit down' or 'miserable'. It is not uncommon to hear 'I'm depressed' uttered after a hard day at work or school, or an argument with a friend.
These dips in your mood are a normal response to the highs and lows of life, and will eventually pass.
However, if these feelings persist for weeks or months and start interfering with your everyday activities, it could mean you are depressed in the medical sense.
Some people still believe that depression is not a genuine condition and that you can just 'snap out of it'; this is simply not true.
Depression is a common condition with real symptoms that can affect your life as much as any physical illness can.
However, with the right support and treatment it is possible to make a full recovery.
How can I tell if someone has depression?
Depression can cause a wide range of symptoms and will affect everybody differently.
Mild depression leaves you with a persistent low mood, making you feel sad and hopeless and stops you from enjoying things you normally enjoy.
If you or a member of your family experience any of the following symptoms in addition to having a low mood for most of the day, on every day, for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP:
- Disturbed sleep
- Poor concentration at work or school
- Low self-confidence
- Changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts or acts
- Feelings of guilt
What causes depression?
There is no single cause of depression; and there are lots of possible reasons why it might happen. Some people seem to be more prone to developing depression than others. This may be because they were born this way, or it could be due to experiences they have had.
Life experiences can have a significant effect on your mood and how you feel about yourself. Bad experiences can lead to depression soon after the event or some time later. These negative experiences can include traumatic events like being physically attacked, losing a loved one, or starting a new school or job.
Research has shown that people who are depressed have lower levels of chemicals in their brains. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are what the brain cells use to communicate with each other. What is less clear is whether this is due to, or a cause of, having depression.
Can depression be treated?
Yes, but it is important to realise that there is no immediate solution to depression. The key to treatment is recognising there is a problem and taking an active part in dealing with it.
Talking to people, such as friends and family, about how you feel and sharing your experiences can be a relief and can help you understand that you are not alone.
Actively avoiding negative thoughts is an effective way to help lift your mood. Distracting yourself by getting involved in sports or activities is a great starting point, and has also been shown to produce chemicals in your brain that can make you feel better.
Expressing yourself creatively can also be a great outlet; try writing, painting or dancing to loosen up positive feelings.
In addition, there are different treatments your doctor can offer. These options will largely depend on how severe your symptoms are and what you are comfortable with.
Treatments can include simply recognising that you are depressed, and then using the 'watch and wait' method, as depression will often get better without treatment.
For more persistent depression, there are 'talking therapies' which help by getting you to talk about your experiences and giving you techniques to cope with how you are feeling.
For more severe depression, there are medicines called 'antidepressants'.
These work by replacing the chemicals that are low in your brain, which can improve your mood.
- If you recognise any of the symptoms above, contact your GP
- Don't be afraid of talking to someone with depression about how they feel, they will appreciate it more than you realise
- Support from family & friends is key to helping someone overcome depression
About Dr. Reshad Malik
Dr. Reshad Malik is a member of the medical writing team at Medikidz, a charity that provides children and teenagers with informative, accessible and fun comics to help them understand their bodies and illness.