Having a low mood is a normal reaction to stressful life events. However for some of us (around 8-12 per cent of people in a given year) this feeling is more intense, lasts longer than it should and can prevent those affected from leading an active life. When this happens, a diagnosis of depression may be made. This is also sometimes called major depressive disorder, major depression, clinical depression or unipolar depression. Depression often occurs alongside anxiety - together they are the most common mental health problems in the UK.
The symptoms of depression can vary, but will often include:
- persistent low mood
- feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and that other people won't understand how you are feeling
- not enough, or too much, sleep
- not enjoying the things you once enjoyed and not wanting to do anything
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm
- feeling helpless or hopeless
Depression isn't always obvious and sometimes people are afraid to ask for help. It is important that carers, family members and friends look out for warning signs that someone may be in distress - especially those who are vulnerable to depression, such as people with chronic physical illness and pain, and the elderly. Some warning signs to look out for:
- irritability or a change in their mood
- reduced self-worth / self-regard
- not wanting to go out as much, or avoiding social interaction
- recent loss of a friend or family member
- increased physical pain
- talking about life being pointless
There are many different things you can do to help with depression. It can be tempting to stay inside and do nothing - especially if you're also feeling anxious. But it is important to try to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle - have a look at our page 10 top tips for good mental health for suggestions on how you can keep depression at bay.
There are a number of effective treatments available for depression so if you have some of the above symptoms, you should meet with your GP to discuss a treatment that works best for you. They may prescribe medication which can help with your symptoms or they may suggest talking therapies like counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
People from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT+) community face an increased risk for depression and suicide. It is thought this is linked to discrimination and bullying experienced by people within this community. There are a number of mental health services available that specialise in lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* issues:-
- Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline provides a listening service for the LGBT+ community. Helpline. 0300 330 0630 (Open 10:00-22:00 every day) :
- Pink Therapy helps you find therapists in your area who specialise in issues related to LGBT+.
- Mermaids supports children and young people up to 19 years old suffering from gender identity issues, their families and supporting professionals. Helpline: 0808 801 0400 (Open Mon-Fri, 9am-9pm)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that varies with the seasons. During winter months we get much less sunlight. Sunlight provides important chemicals for our bodies and our brains; if we aren't getting enough sunlight we can start to experience depressive symptoms. A lot of people with SAD will learn to manage their mood on their own by going outside more or by exercise and a healthy diet. For others talking therapies or medications are the best way to treat the symptoms. Some people find that using a light box helps. A light box is a high intensity light which at certain intensities has been shown to treat SAD. You should check the guidelines of a light box before buying it to make sure it is suitable for treating SAD.
People who are depressed are at a high risk for suicide. This risk is especially high for older adults, particularly men. As a carer, friend or family member you might notice some changes warning you of their plans:
- talking about hurting themselves or suicide
- talking about feeling trapped, helpless or hopeless
- putting their affairs in order or saying goodbyes
If you or someone you know is having thoughts about ending their life, you should talk to someone immediately - it may sometimes feel as though no-one cares but there are people out there who can help. See our section on Support in a Crisis for more details on what to do.
If you need to talk to someone about how you are feeling then call the Samaritans on tel 116 123 (Free number)
The Listening Place is an organisation with a great deal of experience in supporting the suicidal through on-going face-to-face support given by well trained and professionally supervised volunteers.
You can get access to local NHS psychological services through your GP (family doctor) or practice nurse. Your local NHS psychological therapies service provides therapy and mental health services for people with mild to moderate mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, as well as feelings related to changes in your life, bereavement, and personal and family problems.
Details for your local IAPT services are:-
Other information and advice
Maytree aims to alleviate suffering and help people in suicidal crisis to re-engage with life and to restore hope.
Please see the Other information and Advice page for organisations and services that support people with experience of mental health issues.