Depression affects everyone differently, but there are some common symptoms: low-spirits, restlessness, feeling disconnected from other people, and having no interest in the things you normally enjoy. Beth Murphy, Head of Information at Mind, helps us better understand depression.
Severe depression can be debilitating and even life threatening; it may even cause sufferers to contemplate or, in extreme cases, attempt to take their own lives. Mixed anxiety and depression is very common, affecting one in 10 people in England each year. According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, depression (without anxiety) affects around 2.6 per cent of the population. Women tend to experience depression more than men, but this could be down to the fact that women are much more likely to talk about their emotional state when they are struggling.
Although the causes of depression are complicated and varied, there are some life events that can make people more vulnerable to developing it, such as bereavement, social isolation or childhood abuse.
Many of us feel down from time to time – we all have good days and bad days. However, if you have been feeling low for a couple of weeks or more without much change in your mood, or the feelings return over and over again, you may be experiencing depression.
If you are worried about your mental health, the most important thing to do is to open up, perhaps by confiding in a close friend or family member. Lots of people find online forums helpful particularly if they are unable to confide in friends or don’t have strong social networks. Mind has an online peer support network, Elefriends, that allows users to discuss their problems with others going through similar experiences.
Not talking about issues can make things worse, causing deterioration in mental health, which, in extreme cases, can result in a mental health crisis. We know that stigma can prevent people from opening up, which is why Mind, together with Rethink Mental Illness, runs Time to Change, an anti-stigma campaign in England and Wales. Since its launch in 2007, Time to Change has reached millions of people and has seen an 11.5 per cent reduction in average levels of discrimination as reported by people with mental health problems. We are making progress but we still have a long way to go.
We know that there are a range of different types of treatment and intervention that can help people to overcome depression, and live a full life.
For people with mild to moderate depression, taking part in regular physical activity has proven a quick way to turn the emotional tide. This can be difficult to do if the symptoms are severe, but exercise is effective in lifting mood, increasing energy levels, and improving appetite and sleep. Physical activity stimulates endorphins – brain chemicals that boost mood. We recommend keeping busy by engaging in hobbies and activities, particularly those that allow you to connect with others. Ecotherapy – such as green exercise, gardening and environmental conservation has been found to be very effective as well. If planning a whole exercise routine feels too hard, start with a short walk in the park. Exercise and sunlight won’t necessarily cure what ails you, but, especially if they are made a regular part of a healthy daily routine, they can be a very good first step.
Talking treatments have also been found to really help many people. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is often offered on the NHS and can help to identify and change negative thoughts and feelings affecting your behaviour. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is an approach to wellbeing that involves accepting life, and living and paying attention to the present moment. Group therapy allows people to work together on their problems with a therapist. Talking to others and getting their insight can help you understand yourself better; you may also learn about relationships with others.
Combining a psychological treatment with medication may be the most effective course for severe depression. Antidepressants work to balance brain chemicals at emotionally stable levels; they may make it easier for you to do things like exercise and attend social events. Medication can take between two to six weeks to take effect, and medication alone is not usually a complete answer in the long term.
The effectiveness of treatments varies from one individual to another, and for most people a combination of therapies works the best. It is possible to recover from depression, and many people feel stronger and more able to deal with life ups and down when they have found strategies that help them to feel better. It’s also possible to manage symptoms to the point where you feel able to live a full life – holding down a job, relationships, friendships and so forth.
Not addressing mental health problems early can cause more severe problems in the long run, so if you’re worried about the mental health of someone you know, encourage them to seek support or treatment as soon as possible.
For information, support and advice please visit our website at www.mind.org.uk. Mind provides a confidential mental health information service, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm)
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