The word depression is used to describe various and sometimes overlapping experiences. To many people being depressed means feeling sad, ‘blue’, downhearted, disappointed, detached or upset. However, a person can feel all these emotions without being ‘clinically’ depressed. Feelings of sadness or the ‘blues’ are generally brief and have slight effects on normal functioning.
Clinical depression is an emotional, physical and cognitive (thinking) state that is intense and long-lasting and has more negative effects on a person’s day-to-day life. Approximately one in five people will experience an episode of clinical depression in their lifetime.
It is also important to distinguish depression from the sadness we naturally experience after loss, such as during bereavement. Although the grief associated with loss is often intense and long lasting, such emotions are a healthy response to loss and allow people to adjust to their new life circumstances. Depression on the other hand, can have significant and detrimental effects on many aspects of a person’s life. It is generally important to consider what is causing and maintaining the depression for improvement to take place. This may involve a person approaching life stresses or relationships differently, making lifestyle changes, regaining self-esteem or reconnecting with his or her values.
Finally, it is helpful for depressed people to understand what depression is and isn’t. It is not something to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about. It is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness, or a lack in discipline or personal strength. It is not just a ‘mood’ that someone can ‘snap out of’. Most importantly, depression is not permanent – that is, the chances for recovery are very good. A number of psychological and pharmacological treatments (antidepressant medication) are effective, affordable and readily available.
Symptoms of Depression include:
- Loss in interest in pleasurable activities and daily routine – people are often unable to complete daily tasks and do not enjoy activities they previously took pleasure in. They find it difficult to experience more positive feelings and the people around them nay suffer as a result.
- Worrying and negative thinking – worry about the future and having negative thoughts about themselves and their circumstances. These thinking patterns are unhelpful in that they reduce a person’s ability to focus on recovery and tend to increase their vulnerability to other unhealthy emotions and behaviours.
- Irritability, agitation and fatigue – people often report feeling irritable and agitated and may complain of exhaustion. sometimes they feel frustrated with their rate of recovery, level of support or the lack of energy to do anything. They may become easily upset with those around them. Irritability, agitation and fatigue are often made worse by changes in sleeping patterns and other symptoms associated with depression, such as negative thinking.
- Changes in sleeping patterns – people with depression often report not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much. Disruptive sleeping patterns can make a person feel worse and make routine task and activities seem overly difficult and frustrating.
- Hopelessness – people with depression often report feeling trapped and hopeless about their situation. They may be apathetic about their life and in severe cases report suicidal thoughts.