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What is depression?

Posted on 2020-05-18 12:04:51

Depression has many meanings.  It can be used in an everyday way, describing how we feel when bad things happen or things don’t go as we hoped.


In medical terms, clinical depression is a diagnosis characterised by a mix of physical and psychological symptoms such as weight loss, difficulty sleeping and feelings of sadness.


The line between everyday feelings of depression and clinical depression isn’t always clear.


In general, it has to do with the number of symptoms experienced and the length of time someone experiences them.


While every person is different, the guidelines for clinical depression are when someone experiences three or more of the below for a period of more than two weeks.


How do I know if I am depressed?


When someone is depressed they can experience a range of things.  Some of the signs of depression are:

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Crying a lot or feeling agitated
  • High use of alcohol or drugs
  • Losing their temper
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Headaches or stomach aches
  • Feeling empty
  • Feeling anxious
  • Losing interest in activities they usually enjoy.


However, it’s important to remind ourselves that depression has many meanings and just because you’re feeling depressed, doesn’t mean you’re suffering from clinical depression.


There can be a danger of medicalising everyday emotions, so talking about your feelings honestly and openly can help to fully understand what’s going on for you.


What causes depression?


Feelings of depression can be a completely normal reaction to traumatic events in our life, like sudden negative changes in personal circumstances or an experience of violence. 


How does depression start?


Depression can develop over time, possibly when negative experiences haven’t been resolved in positive ways, like talking to someone, but have been repressed through unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol abuse.


Help with depression


It’s both normal and common to have feelings of depression.  Those feelings can often be resolved with a little help from friends or family.


However, if feelings of depression persist over a couple of weeks it’s worth looking at the range of ways to get support by changing our behaviour and also accessing help.


Eating well and being active – even though you might not feel like it, exercising and eating well can help when you’re feeling down. Biological factors, as well as social factors, influence how you feel and think about yourself.


Writing down your feelings – this can be a great way of understanding your emotions, their triggers and a specific situation.  It can also help you think about alternative solutions to problems.


Taking time out – it’s a good idea to try and take a bit of each day to do something you enjoy.  When you’re feeling down it can be hard to motivate yourself but try to make a list of things you enjoy.  Plan to do one of them each day.


Going easy on drugs and alcohol – this can be easier said than done but the feeling is usually temporary and the after effects often make the problem worse.


What works for one person, may not necessarily work for another.  People find different ways to deal with depression such as exercise, diet, mindfulness, meditation, art therapy or bibliotherapy.  Even if you find these don’t help you completely manage, they can certainly compliment other treatments for depression.


Talk to someone – although it may seem hard, sharing how you feel with someone you trust can help you see alternative ways of thinking about a problem, and help make you a happier in general.


Call a helpline – if you feel you’re having difficulty talking to people you know or when you need to talk to someone at 3 am. The Samaritans have a free-phone number, 116 123 and an email service: jo@samaritans.org.


Talk to a GP or counsellor – sometimes, people don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close . Your GP or family doctor can be an important first point of contact for a mental health problem or concern.  There are many different depression therapy options available, for information about different approaches read face-to-face help. 


In a crisis

People experiencing depression can sometimes have suicidal thoughts. If you feel like this, it’s really important you seek help.


If you feel you’re in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, you can call 999 (or 112 if you’re outside Ireland) or go straight to your local accident and emergency department where they’ll be able to help you.


If you know someone is having suicidal thoughts, encourage them to seek help.  If they are scared about telling someone else you can offer to go with them for support.


There are many different management and treatment options for depression.  Try to remember that overcoming depression will take time and you need to stay strong through some of the tougher days.  Remember, overcoming it is achievable.

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