Depression is a diagnosis given to someone who is experiencing a low mood and who finds it hard or impossible to have fun or enjoy their lives.
What is depression?
Depression is not the same as being sad or experiencing grief, although it can be triggered by specific events. Many people will talk about not knowing why they feel the way they do, or not having any idea how to feel better. They will have been feeling like this for a long time, to the extent that it is interfering with their everyday life and stopping them doing things they would do normally.
A doctor will diagnose someone with depression by asking questions about whether they have certain thoughts and feelings, and how often.
A diagnosis is not a label. It is simply a tool to help professionals decide what types of treatment and support to offer. Diagnoses may also change over the course of someone's lifetime.
How common is depression?
Depression is one of the most common mental health problems. It is hard to say how common, as people often talk about it differently and some will never receive an official diagnosis, but it is estimated around 3 in 100 people will be experiencing depression in any given week. 8 out of 100 people will be experiencing a mixture of anxiety and depression.
This will be many more of us over a course of a lifetime and the likelihood of you knowing someone who has or has had depression is very high.
What are some of myths and misconceptions about depression?
For some people depression is hard to talk about because friends, colleagues, parents, partners and siblings think it is 'made-up' or a sign of being weak. This can lead to people hiding how they feel. Some people also think depression is something you should be able to 'snap out of' or 'shake off', but depression is a mental health problem which should be taken seriously.
Being on the receiving end of stigma or discrimination, be it intentional or not, can cause such self-doubt and make you feel like a liar, a fraud, or just broken - James
How does depression affect people?
Someone who is experiencing depression will often describe feeling down, hopeless or empty. They can feel like they don't have any motivation and that it's impossible to enjoy anything anymore.
Everyone responds to depression in different ways. But some common behaviours that people with depression and their friends and family describe are:
- Cancelling plans with friends, or giving up hobbies they normally enjoy
- Staying in bed for long periods of time
- Changes in appetite
- Using drink or drugs more often
- Snapping at family and friends
- Avoiding or calling in sick to work, school or university.
My friends recall me disappearing from nights out - I recall at that time feeling lonely and empty. I left my job after 18 years in 2007 because I felt hollow and in such a dark place. I would often be curled up in a ball in my bedroom - Lee
Some people with depression won't show any of these signs. They will hide how they're feeling and do all they can to pretend everything is ok. They might feel ashamed, or like they are weak, because of some of the misconceptions associated with depression. These can be some of the people who are most at risk of suicide. This is because they are unlikely to ask for, or receive the help they need.
I stayed silent for five years - not out of fear of a bad reaction, but more so because I didn’t want to appear weak - Ben
How can I help someone with depression?
Over time, people with depression can lose touch with friends and become distant from family, so that they end up isolated and alone.Even if it seems like they're trying to push you away at times, reminding them you'll always be there for them, is a really important part of helping someone with depression.
Often when you are in the most need of help, love and support, you isolate yourself from the world and avoid human contact. You can push the ones you love away, either by not speaking to them at all, or by taking your emotions out on them -Tamsin
Learn about depression
There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about depression. This may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.
Acknowledge their problems
People with depression can face a lot of unhelpful beliefs and negative attitudes. One of the most helpful things you can do is assure them you believe they are struggling and that they can trust you. Just to be able to share how they're feeling can be a huge relief.
Battling my own mind is hard enough, let alone trying to argue with people who don’t agree that I have depression and anxiety - Katie
Give them information about other types of support
Sometimes the support of friends and family is not enough. Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS, private healthcare or organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can also be helpful.
Depending on the person and their situation, a doctor could offer antidepressants, psychological therapies (sometimes called talking treatments) or a combination of both.They might also suggest training courses, changes to someone's lifestyle or community-run social activities.
Remember you can’t force someone to get help. Repeatedly trying to do so before they are ready can actually do more harm than good.