In the third of our Mental Health Awareness Week blog series, Elaine Sketchley, Staff Counsellor, helps you to answer this question – are you depressed or are you experiencing something else altogether?
We all occasionally feel sad and/or lacking in motivation. This is a natural response to life’s challenges. Depression, on the other hand, is more serious than this and if left can cause further complications and interfere with our daily life.
Unless we have some understanding and/or experience of depression, either in ourselves or in others, we may not have a clear idea of what to look for. Even if we have witnessed depression in others, our experience is unlikely to be the same and this may cause us to doubt whether we have it or not. So how can we know whether we are experiencing depression or perhaps something altogether different? To answer this question we need to have some idea of what depression looks like.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that 1 in 4 of the population will experience depression at some time in their lives. The sooner it is identified, the sooner it can be treated, giving the best outcome for recovery.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma towards depression and mental ill health in general which is, of course, misguided. This can cause us to delay or perhaps avoid seeking appropriate and effective support. It is important not to feel ashamed about being depressed. It can happen to any one of us at any time and, therefore, does not indicate weakness or failure in those who experience this or any other mental health condition.
So, understanding the nature of depression and then taking appropriate action is important. This can result in shortening the amount of time we stay depressed and enable us to develop effective long term strategies we can return to if necessary in future, as depression can return. Having said this, depression may also disappear of its own accord, without intervention. However, this is rare and usually due to external events, which may have contributed to the depression, having improved.
Sometimes external events, such as a significant loss, divorce, redundancy or bereavement may trigger a depressive episode whilst, at other times, a clear cause cannot be attributed. It’s important to consider that loss will understandably have a bearing on our mood and often we will experience depression as part of grief. However, if this continues and becomes more lasting, it is wise to consider whether depression has become a dominant feature.
Key signs of depression are persistent low mood and a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. For a diagnosis of depression, these signs should be present most of the day either daily or nearly daily, for at least two weeks.
In addition, the depressive symptoms need to cause clinically significant distress or impairment. Sometimes depression can be symptomatic of an underlying health condition such as hypothyroidism. It may also be linked to the use of drugs, including alcohol. Sometimes it can be tempting to use alcohol as a way of alleviating symptoms of depression. Although it may temporarily, the effects are short lived and as alcohol is a depressant, it serves to worsen the condition in the longer term and can easily become a vicious cycle.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with depressive illnesses might not all experience the same symptoms. How severe they are, how frequent, and how long they last, will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness.
However, there are some common symptoms people with depression often experience and therefore, provide useful assessment indicators. These are listed below:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Loss of pleasure in life
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
In most cases depression results from long term stress connected to stressful life events, known as triggers, for example:
- Prolonged stress
- Physical illness/disability
- Employment issues
- If you identify with any of these symptoms and have been for 2 weeks or more, you may be experiencing depression. If so, it is important to seek out appropriate and effective support as soon as possible.
- The first step would be to make an appointment to see your GP who will offer you an assessment and follow up, with appropriate treatment.
You may also consider counselling as a treatment option. A combination of counselling and prescribed anti-depressant medication has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression, in the longer term.
If you would like further information and support, you can contact the Staff Counselling Service on 02920 879572 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Further information about the services we provide are on the Staff Intranet.