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Last updated Friday, 18th Mar 2016

Depression is an illness which affects negatively a person’s thinking and mood. People with depression experience feelings of sadness that can last for weeks or months. These feelings interfere with everyday life. In its mildest form, depression can lead to someone feeling miserable and everyday activities feel much harder to do. Severe depression may lead to someone feeling that their life is pointless and consider suicide.

What causes depression?

The exact cause of depression is not known. Some people begin to feel depressed for no clear reason. Some people find their depression has been triggered by something that has happened to them – such as the loss of a loved one or the break-up of a relationship. You are more likely to experience depression if other members of your family have also experienced it.

Who is affected by depression?

Depression affects people of all ages and from all backgrounds. It is estimated that about 1 in 5 people will experience depression during their lives. Depression seems to affect more women than men, although it also seems that men are less likely to admit they have a problem and seek help.

What are the signs or symptoms of depression?

Depression affects different people in different ways. It can affect your body, your moods, emotions, feelings and thoughts:


  • sleep e.g. difficulty getting to sleep, waking early, wanting to sleep all the time
  • eating e.g. not wanting to eat or eating too much
  • aches and pains – that cannot be explained
  • energy levels e.g. feeling tired and drained or feeling restless and unable to relax

Moods, emotions and feelings

  • feeling sad and in low spirits
  • feeling more irritable than usual
  • feeling numb and emotionless
  • crying a lot – or feeling unable to cry even though you want to
  • feeling anxious and worried
  • feeling worthless and lacking in confidence
  • feeling negative about the future
  • feeling that life is not worth living
  • feeling suicidal

‘I felt so unbearably sad that even getting out of bed seemed too difficult and absolutely pointless.’

Screening tools

There are a number of questionnaires which have been designed to help people decide whether or not they have depression. These are available on the internet free of charge. They will not confirm if you have a diagnosis of depression. Some people find it helpful to work through these questionnaires when considering their own symptoms – before going to see their GP for example.

What should I do if I think I have depression?

If you have had feelings of sadness which have not gone away and are interfering with your daily life, it may be a sign that you are feeling depressed. In the first instance you could go and see your GP. You may want to tell him or her how you have been feeling and what impact this is having on your life – and those around you.

Why can’t I just ‘pull myself together’?

It is important to remember that depression is an illness. It is not a sign of weakness or failure and you cannot be expected to just snap out of it. People should not be made to feel ashamed. Depression can be treated if you seek help.

What can help with depression?

Most people who seek help with their depression, recover well. There are many things that can help you with your depression. These include:

  • psychological therapies such as psychotherapy, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and relationship or family therapy. There is more information about this type of help in the psychological therapies section of this website.
  • computerised self-help programmes which are available on the internet. Some of these are free and others can be paid for privately or prescribed by your GP.
  • getting support and sharing experiences with other people who experience depression.
  • learning as much as possible about the condition and how it affects you. It can be useful to do this together with family members and others who are involved in supporting you. There are a number of useful books and websites which provide information and support.
  • looking after yourself and trying to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating well, keeping active and getting enough sleep.
  • finding ways to reduce the amount of stress in your life and trying to avoid the things which might make you feel more depressed.
  • making changes to your life to increase your sense of wellbeing.
  • medicines (also known as medication or prescribed drugs) may help you with your depression, especially if it deemed as moderate or severe depression.

There is more information about medicines that can help with depression on the websites of the national mental health charities, Mind and Rethink.

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